Social Sciences

Informal Writing Assignments

Brad Hughes, Martin Nystrand, Paige Byam, and Tom Curtis
The assignments below are generally short, informal, perhaps ungraded writing assignments that instructors might consider adapting to their classes. Students often appreciate the opportunity to explore their thoughts on paper in such a way that relieves the pressure of a longer, more formal writing assignment.

The Question Box

Responding to Student Drafts Using Audio

Annette Vee, English Department, UW-Madison
Instead of writing comments on student papers, some instructors record spoken feedback in a digital audio file.  Here's a thoughtful explanation of the benefits of audio feedback, sample student reactions to the audio feedback, and guidelines for trying this yourself.

Like many writing instructors, I had a comfortable and effective written feedback routine for my students’ writing; however, when wrist pain from typing prompted me to seek alternative methods of giving feedback, I discovered how rewarding audio commenting could be for both me and my students.


Student Guidelines for Peer Review: Psychology

Professor Colleen Moore, Psychology Department, UW-Madison
Notice that in this peer-review process, reviewers first outline their peer's draft (to help the author see how readers understand its organization) and then offer advice for strengthening the paper.

Psychology 411


Peer Review Instructions

Read the paper, and comment on the draft. Note what isn’t clear, what sentences are awkward, etc.


1. Write an outline (sometimes it helps to number the paragraphs when you do this).


Organization Issues

Professor Robert Hawkins, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, UW-Madison
Professor Robert Hawkins’ handout offers specific advice to students on organizing paragraphs and making transitions. 
Paragraph unity.
Ideally, every sentence in a paragraph should contribute to developing some central idea.

Making a Sociological Argument: Orienting Students to a New Field

Greta Krippner, Sociology Department, UW-Madison
Greta Krippner offers explicit advice for introducing students to the discipline of sociology. Specifically, Krippner offers guidance for coaching students to make a sociological argument, find a sociological research question, and read quantitative journals.

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry.”   (Karl Marx, 1867)


From Topic to Thesis

Tisha Turk, Gender and Women's Studies, UW-Madison
Students may do a good job of coming up with a suitable thesis or argument, but how can instructors help students to move beyond the obvious or the ordinary? In this handout, instructor Tisha Turk shows her students what she’s thinking as she reads their ideas to help them understand reader expectations

A well-constructed thesis statement helps hold an essay together by showing the reader where the paper is going to go.

Motivating Students to Grow as Writers

Sara Lindberg, Psychology Department, UW-Madison
How do you increase student motivation to write and give tough critical feedback on writing? Instructor Sara Lindberg gives concrete tips based on her experience teaching in Psychology 225.

There are several things you can do to help your students cope with critical feedback—a necessary evil in the writing process.

Helping Your Students Improve Their Writing and Their Learning

Brad Hughes, UW-Madison WAC Program
Here are some suggestions, based on research and experience, for improving your students' writing--and for improving the experience you have assigning, reading, and responding to it.

While many of these principles and techniques take time to implement, and some may be logistically impossible in large classes, they have proven successful here and at many other schools in courses

Weekly Assignments in Theatre and Drama and History of Science

Karen Ryker, Michael Shank
Professor Karen Ryker and Professor Michael Shank use weekly writing assignments to encourage student engagement and to stimulate class discussions. "The Journal" and "The Weekly One Pager" are two examples of these types of assignments.     

The Journal  

A Collaborative Term Project and Oral Presentation in Consumer Science

Irena Vida
Professor Irena Vida explain the requirements of a group term paper and presentation. Note that although she gives no explicit directions regarding how the group should divide responsibilities, she does ask students to report back on the contribution of each group member to the final project.

This team project assignment consists of a descriptive and historical account of a major U.S. retail chain with store branches in at least 10 different states.

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