Designing Effective Assignments

Student Guidelines for Peer Review: Intermediate Composition

Janelle Schwartz, English Department, UW-Madison
Especially in introductory and intermediate courses, students do more effective peer reviews when instructors give them explicit guidelines for what to focus on when they read and comment on a draft.  One of the key goals here is to help students internalize these expectations for their own papers.

This is to give you an idea of the type of things you should be looking for and accomplishing in both your own paper and that of your peer(s). Use what follows as a kind of checklist for determining what is working effectively in a paper and what is not.



Student Guidelines for Peer Review: Art Issues Research Paper

Jo Ortel, Art Department, UW-Madison
Here's a sample of guiidlines distributed to students doing peer reviews in a writing-intensive art course.

Art 236


Answer all the following questions for each paper. Write on a separate sheet, not on the draft itself. Include your name and phone number (or e-mail address) on your evaluation. Don’t worry about “surface errors” (spelling, punctuation, etc.); let the author do her own proofreading. Your job is to spot more important problems.


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

Putting Together Peer Review Groups

Most instructors agree that it pays off to put some thought into grouping students for peer review.  There's no magic number of students per group, but most instructors make groups of three or four students--large enough to have some variety in the feedback but small enough so that no one student has too many drafts to read and critique.  Here's some advice about setting up groups, writtten for instructors in English 100, a first-year writing course.

There's little consensus among instructors as to what kind of student combinations make for the best peer workshop groups. Some instructors have found it helpful not to place two or more men and one woman in a group, or one student of color in an all‑white group.

How DO You Make Peer Review Work?

Kirsten Jamsen, WAC Program, UW-Madison
Having students review and offer feedback each other's drafts can be an effective way to stretch out the writing process and to help students learn to read their own work more critically.  But making peer review work well requires planning.  Here's some excellent advice for getting started.

After many semesters using peer review in my own composition classes and helping colleagues in Geography, Women’s Studies, Political Science, Slavic, and Art use peer review successfully in their classes, I have several specific suggestions for instructors trying peer review for the first time or refining their own methods of using peer review.

Three Innovative Writing Assignments in an African Languages and Literature Course

Linda Hunter
The following examples from Professor Linda Hunter's course illustrate how innovative writing assignments can be incorporated into a class.

There will be five exercises in writing, which together will count for 20% of the final grade. They are to be typed, double spaced, using no smaller than 12 point font size, on one side of one sheet of paper with one inch margins all around (approximately 250 words). Exercises must be no longer than one page. They must be turned in on the due date.

The Weekly One-Pager

Michael Shank
Professor Michael Shank uses weekly papers to encourage student engagement and to stimulate class discussions.

The purposes of this assignment are several:


The Fifty-Word Assignment

Professor Charles L. Cohen

Seeking the holy grail of an exercise that teaches writing, advances critical skills, adds only a modicum of time to students’ weekly work load, and requires even less time/student to evaluate? The closest thing I have found is the “minor assignment,” a fifty-word sentence covering the week’s reading.

Teaching Writing in Multidisciplinary Graduate Courses

Kate Vieira

Multidisciplinary graduate courses offer forums for exciting collaboration, as well as a chance for Ph.D. students to fulfill their minor requirement. But when students come to a graduate course from varied departments, questions arise about what kind of writing to assign and how to help students succeed at it.

Short, Informal Writing Assignments in a Literature Course

Sherry Reames
Professor Sherry Reames offers a great mix of activities and assignments that teach invaluable skills to students learning how to write about literature.

Because there were nearly 200 students in the class this spring, Professor Reames broke students into two groups, each of which were required to turn in responses on different days (usually Wed and Fri of the same week).

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