Informal 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

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.


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


Course Description:

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).

Designing Writing Assignments for *Non-Majors*

Shannon Skelton

I am under no illusions about why students enroll in my Comm-B section of Introduction to Theatre and Dramatic Literature. Although they may have an interest in the subject, students’ primary motivation is securing that elusive Comm-B credit. As a result, most of my students are not majoring in theatre and drama, or even in literature or the arts.

A Sequence of Formal and Informal Assignments

Colleen Moore
Before and during the time her students begin work on their 10-15 page research papers, Professor Colleen Moore assigns eight shorter papers that encourage students to engage in critical thinking, careful reading, clear summarizing, and in-depth analysis. Moore's sequence initially builds from informal to formal writing and from simpler to more complex rhetorical tasks, enabling her students to practice and build their writing skills. While students are researching and writing their term papers, her assignments push students to stay engaged in the writing process and make it possible for her to give them feedback on their work in progress. Note also her very clear and explicit instructions and goals for students in each assignment.

Course goals:


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