The style, vocabulary, format, and message will all be influenced by the rhetorical situation. The writer/speaker who starts with these elements in mind has a roadmap.
Planning the Assignment
Developing an assignment requires that you make some decisions before you produce a prompt:
- Clarify the assignment's genre (i.e., the type of document or performance), purpose, and audience
- Clarify your expectations in relation to your students' level of knowledge: Is the task difficult enough to challenge but still within their reach?
- Decide if it will be a high-stakes (for a major portion of the final grade)or a low-stakes assignment (for a token grade, if any, but for practice or to build up to another assignment).
- Decide if it will be a team or collaborative assignment.
- Decide how the assignment relates to other course assignments: will it be scaffolded, for example? Will students write the same type of paper all semester to master a genre or audience or work with different genres and audiences?
- Consider resources and instruction students will need to complete the assignment.
Writing the Assignment Prompt
After planning, craft the written prompt to give to your students. Make sure you include the following elements:
- Learning outcomes for the particular assignment
- Description of the rhetorical situation (see below for details), format, length, topic or task
- Grading criteria (might be done as a separate grading rubric)
- Time available for completing the assignment and any required steps to be completed before the final product is due; you may want to include a deadline for grade appeals
- Expectations for research, including documentation style and number and type of sources
- Resources such as Turnitin.com (Help Desk Central), University Libraries' class guides, or the University Writing Center.
If your syllabus does not do so, specify:
- Late paper and plagiarism policies
- Grading and responding policies
- Grading symbols/notation you commonly use
: Some instructors suggest a 24-hour cooling off period before students dispute grades; others require written memos. It is also useful to establish a policy that explains how you grade; for example, you may want to set a limit on the amount of corrections you'll do of basic grammar and punctuation. Or you may want to let students know that you will not read papers with so many errors that you are distracted (in which case you'll have to include conditions for re-submission).
Presenting the Assignment
Some instructors bring a draft of their assignment to class, ask students to critique it for clarity and completeness (What words do they need defined? Do they understand basic terms such as "analyze" or "summarize"? Do they understand the grading criteria?), then revise the draft for final presentation and another round of discussion. When you make the assignment in class, be sure to do the following:
- Read the assignment aloud.
- Solicit questions and feedback on the task.
- Clarify the assignment and your expectations. Doing so can cut down on time you will spend giving feedback or grading because students who understand the assignment will perform better and better fulfill your requirements.
Additional ResourcesCreating Effective Writing Assignments: 8 Tips
by Nancy VazquezDesigning Writing Assignments and Presenting Them to Students
, brief advice from the University of Toronto.Designing Effective Writing Assignments
(scroll down to "Designing Effective Assignments") from James Madison University Writing Center.
White, Edward M. "Assessment and the Design of Writing Assignments." Teaching and Assessing Writing: Recent Advances in Understanding, Evaluating, and Improving Student Performance
. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.