Creating Effective Writing Assignments

In 2008, the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College surveyed 23,000 students in 82 four‐year institutions about writing practices and assignments. They found that the design of writing assignments, more than the amount of writing assigned, was the most important factor for promoting deep learning.

A strategic assignment can help students learn course material, practice critical thinking, and strengthen their communication skills. Improving the design of an assignment can also improve the quality of students’ finished writing projects.

So, how can we design more effective writing assignments?

Consider the Purpose

When designing writing assignments, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want my students to learn from this assignment?
  • What kinds of thinking do I want students to practice in this assignment?
  • What kinds of information do I want students to become familiar with in order to complete this assignment?
  • How will this assignment help my students to meet course outcomes?
  • How will this assignment help my students to grapple with important questions or problems in the field?
  • How will this assignment help prepare my students for the kinds of writing they will do in future courses or as professionals?

Consider the Audience

Students are more successful with assignments that include clear instructions and guidelines. The following are some best practices for writing effective assignment sheets with a student audience in mind:

  • Provide the assignment in writing so that students can refer to it at all stages of the writing process
  • Include an assignment description that clearly defines the task
  • Connect the assignment to students’ prior knowledge or experience
  • Provide information about where to find examples of similar writing projects
  • Help students to understand the audience for their writing
  • Explain the purpose and learning outcomes for the assignment
  • Specify the requirements and guidelines
  • Provide grading criteria or a rubric so that students understand how their work will be evaluated

Consider the Structure

These strategies are helpful when incorporating a writing assignment into your course:

  • Schedule the assignment strategically
    • What knowledge will students need to be successful with the assignment?
    • How much class time, student time, and instructor time is involved in the assignment?
    • Would a sequence of assignments that build upon one another help students to be more successful?
  • Include interactive components
    • Smaller writing activities
    • Opportunities for brainstorming
    • Feedback while in process
    • Opportunities for revision