Overview: Designing Effective Assignments

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

Sequenced Assignments with Different Forms of Media

Greg Downey, Library and Information Studies
Taught by Professor Greg Downey, this hybrid in-person/online course gives students the chance to experiment with personal publishing tools such as weblogs and video podcasts.

The Information Society: Hybrid In-person/Online Course Syllabus

A Sequence of Informal and Formal Writing Assignments in a Psychology of Religion Syllabus

Colleen Moore, Psychology of Religion, UW-Madison
As her students work toward a 10-15 page research paper, Professor Colleen Moore assigns 8 shorter papers that build from informal to formal writing and simple to complex rhetorical tasks, enabling her students to practice and build their writing skills.

Psychology of Religion 411

This course examines religions and religious phenomena from the point of view of empirical psychology. This is a Level III (Advanced) Psychology course that assumes some sophisticated background in either psychology or religious studies.


Sequencing Different Genres of Writing Assignments in a Women’s Studies Syllabus

Caitilyn Allen, Plant Pathology, UW-Madison
Professor Caitilyn Allen’s writing-intensive Women’s Studies syllabus includes her expectations for polished and revised drafts as well as overviews of the various papers she assigns throughout the semester.

Women’s Studies 530: Biology and Gender


Sequenced Graded And Ungraded Writing Assignments In A Writing-Intensive Literature Syllabus

Lynn Keller, English, UW-Madison
This sample syllabus shows how Professor Lynn Keller assigns ungraded, low-stakes journal writing in her writing-intensive literature course to let her students develop their ideas before they turn them into a high-stakes, graded essay.  

Modern American Literature Since 1914


Time and Place: 2:30‑3:45 110 Noland
Office hours: Tuesday 1:00‑3:00 and by appointment
7131 Helen C. White Hall, 263‑3794
e‑mail: rlkeller@facstaff.wisc.edu


Course Description:

Why Learning to Write Well in College Is Difficult

Bill Cerbin, Assistant to the Provost, UW-La Crosse, and Terry Beck, Department of English, UW-La Crosse
In this list, Cerbin and Beck offer insightful explanations for why students struggle when they move from high school to college writing and when they write in different disciplines. Cerbin and Beck offer instructors explicit issues to consider when designing writing assignments, working with students on writing, and evaluating written work.

The following list is not, of course, meant to rationalize sub-par writing by college students. Nor can one course instructor address all the challenges listed below.

Why Should I Use Writing Assignments in My Teaching?

Brad Hughes, UW-Madison WAC Program
The premise of this WAC website--and of the WAC movement overall--is that effectively designed writing assignments enhance our teaching and our students' learning.  While acknowleding that assigning and evaluating writing is time consuming, this page offers a number of persuasive arguments why writing assignments are part of effective teaching and learning.

That's a good question, actually. Let's be honest–-there are, after all, many reasons why we might not want to assign writing in our courses. And many of those reasons have to do with the limited time we all can devote to teaching. Designing writing assignments and responding to student writing take valuable time—lots of time if we do them carefully.

A Writing Portfolio Project in Math 130

Brad Franklin, Mathematics Department, UW-Madison
In this course for math-education students, students do a series of various writing assignments throughout the semester, culminating in this portfolio of their written work.

A Portfolio Project in Math 



Sample Evaluation Criteria for Papers in a Philosophy Course

Jocelyn Johnson, Philosophy Department, UW-Madison
This kind of rubric, from an undergraduate philosophy course on contemporary moral issues, not only emphasizes the traits of successful papers but also, with its continuum for each trait, gives students a quick visual sense of strengths and of areas to improve.  Notice that the instructor gives open-ended comments as well.  And notice the excellent explanations of the evaluation criteria--some terms, like "orginality," need explanining within the context of a particular course and particular assignment.

Sample Paper Evaluation Sheet in Philosophy



Name:_________________________________  Topic:_______________________________________________




Peer Assessment of Research and Review Teams

Brian Manske, Biology 152, UW-Madison
When students work regularly in groups, some instructors find it helpful to have students assess each group member's contributions.  Here's an example of that kind of assessment, from Biology/Botany/Zoology 152 at UW-Madison.

Biology 152: Research and Review Team Peer Assessment Rubric


Bio152 Learning Goal - Develop and apply collegial etiquette and project management skills

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