Getting more out of your students’ writing assignments

Are you frustrated with the quality of your students writing? Do you feel they are just not “getting” the assignment? Ever wonder if there was something you could do to produce better results? Thankfully, there are tools that are guaranteed to work!

Here are just a few of the strategies that you can employ:

  • Consider what you want the assignment to do, in terms of the larger thematic goals of your course. What do you want your students to get out of their work? What types of responses do you want them to produce?
  • Consider the order of assignments. Instead of assigning a project that students only have a few weeks to complete, consider how students can build skills (and receive feedback) over the course of the entire semester. Make a sequence of writing challenges that build on each other.
  • Be specific about everything in your assignment (even if you want it to be open-ended). Be explicit about the form you want the writing to take, the purpose (why are the students writing this?) and the process (where/how do they start).
  • Break your assignment down into specific questions and tasks. This can help the students know where to start and where to go from there.
  • Make sure you’ve defined clearly all the terms you’ve used in your assignment. Are you taking certain jargon for granted?
  • Be clear about what you don’t want. This can save a lot of time for both student and faculty.
  • Type up your assignment and give it out. Students have varied language proficiencies and having a written assignment can help every student no matter where they fall on that continuum.
  • Try to write (or at least to outline) the assignment yourself. If you can’t answer your own question, your students probably can’t either!


Credits: Original post by Lindsey Albracht, Christina Nadler, and the students in the Macaulay Honors Program at Queens College; updated and remixed by Charlotte Thurston.

Featured image from The Pattern Library.

Last updated: July 12th, 2020