Consider the following general suggestions for planning and creating writing assignments that work well:

  • make sure the task is clearly defined, using language that helps students know what they are expected to produce, when, and why.
  • suggest an authentic situation, one that provides students with a clear sense of purpose and audience.
  • if there are specific steps that students need to go after to finish the assignment, make sure to include them (length, plans to see a thesis statement, notes, and/or draft; plans for conferencing and peer review, etc.).
  • write assignments so that students can understand how their purpose ties into the overall plan for the course.
  • if adequate, include information about how you will react to the writing assignment and grading criteria.
  • consider whether there are aspects of the assignment that can be made pliable for students with special learning needs or different levels of capability (extended deadlines, time for conferencing, etc.).

Writing assignments can be developed for different purposes: as a way to support learning as well as a means of communication.

Informal Writing Assignments: Writing to Learn

Whether considering writing in the classroom for a writing course, a Very first Year Seminar, or a content-area course, it is significant to understand how course content can actually be understood and secured through writing to learn. In this mode, students write in order to detect, examine, and test their ideas about reading assignments, class discussions, lectures, and essay topics. Such writing is usually informal, can take a multiplicity of forms, and represents the kind of active thinking and critical engagement with course material that helps students prepare for more formal writing tasks. Writing to learn becomes a vehicle for figuring out and refining what we think before we communicate publicly to others.

Ideas for using writing to learn in the classroom:


  • analyze the writer behind the text :
    think of the unique human being using writing to express an idea. List as many facts as you can think of about the writer based on what is found in the reading: are there thoughtful conclusions and careful evidence introduced about the subject under discussion? What does this tell you about the writer’s intellectual response to the subject?
  • attempt a passage commentary:
    select a passage from the reading that seems most significant, copy it into the reading log, and then write several paragraphs explaining why the passage seems significant.
  • use the ancient tradition of commonplace books:
    for every assigned reading, copy significant passages because they have significant ideas related to the course material and/or because they represent strong writing that might be imitated in terms of form and style choices. Such a commonplace book will help improve memory of course topics and serve as a helpful resource for review.

  • for every assigned reading, write a response that both summarizes the main points (lower-order reasoning abilities) and analyzes/critiques the main points (higher-order reasoning abilities).
  • practice critical reflection as part of reading response:
    -what was strong and feeble about the assigned reading and why;
    – what was interesting, relevant, and connected to other readings and why;
    – what seemed off the topic, irrelevant, or inconsistent with other readings and why;
    – what assumptions seemed explicit and/or implicit in the reading and why;
    – what opposing viewpoints to the reading seem significant and why;
    – what are the advantages and/or disadvantages of agreeing with the reading and why?
  • use a series of brief (100 words), progressively more difficult writing assignments that can be ended in the classroom or as homework. Brief, quick summaries of assigned readings could be asked for very first, then brief syntheses of ideas in several connected readings, and eventually analyses of the quality of an argument or string of related ideas. As micro themes grow in number and difficulty, topics for more formal assignments like critical analysis might emerge and signal productive directions for both teacher and student.

  • using 3×5 cards, ask students to comment with an idea or question about the topic under discussion for a specific class period, then use their comments/questions to begin the next class period.
  • using 3×5 cards, require that students inject class with a comment or question about the assigned reading written on the card and ready to be collective for class discussion.

  • interrupt a lecture or discussion with a brief freewrite that asks students to comment on what is under discussion. These brief freewrites can then be discussed or the class can stir ahead. Either way, freewriting will permit students to concentrate closely on a topic.

  • use a focused freewrite on the day that a formal writing assignment is introduced: review the material that has been covered and the actual writing assignment; then ask students to write loosely for about five minutes on what they are thinking about as a possible topic. Share these ideas in class discussion, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses and relevance in terms of the assignment.
  • use a center of gravity treatment. Embark freewriting on a possible direction for the assignment and stop after three minutes, then:
    – review what was written and underline or circle the idea that seems most prominent;
    – copy the underlined or circled idea on a clean page and then begin freewriting again for three minutes, focused on the copied idea;
    – again review what was written and finish the same process of underlining, copying, and freewriting on the specific idea that has been copied.
    Each time the student freewrites, in other words, the original idea becomes more and more focused – the students draws closer to the “center of gravity” for the actual writing assignment and have something to embark with for a draft.
  • write a discovery draft as a very first response to a formal writing assignment, one that is collective in a peer group and/or read by the teacher and commented on for the coherence of its main idea and supporting evidence only. Such a discovery draft will then permit the student to build on early ideas as a more finish draft is written.
  • Formal Writing Assignments: Writing to Communicate

    When writing to communicate, students stir from their informal and more discovery-based writing to more formal, requesting and public expectations of particular discourse and rhetorical conventions. Learning the conventions for specific fields of explore, developing different methods for analysis and argument, as well as fine tuning the details of grammar, documentation and mechanics are central to the mode of writing as communication.

    At their most effective, assignments in writing to communicate can be built directly off the scaffolding that has been provided through writing to learn. The two modes of writing are connected in terms of developing content, but writing to communicate will call for more coherent development and structure.

    Students can be asked to review everything they have written informally through writing to learn in order to determine a concentrate or direction for their more formal assignments in public communication. They may find an initial thesis for a specific topic emerging through their ideas for using writing to communicate in the classroom.


  • Consider the PURPOSE or the primary concentrate that will be emphasized by a specific assignment. Do you want students to develop analytical, informational, argumentative, reflective, or expressive abilities, or a combination of several abilities? The essay instructions should make clear to students what set of abilities will be most valued when completing the assignment.
  • Analytical: What is valued is the students’ capability to examine closely the connection inbetween the parts and the entire of a particular subject and their capability to investigate and articulate the way ideas connect to or contrast with one another.
  • Informational: What is valued is the students’ capability to summarize and synthesize information about a particular subject.
  • Argumentative: What is valued is the students’ capability to articulate a claim about a particular subject with suitable evidence to support such a claim.
  • Reflective: What is valued is the students’ capability to look at practices retrospectively and articulate what has been learned from them.
  • Expressive: What is valued is the students’ capability to consider the relevance of individual practice.
  • Analysis is the skill underpinning all others. To write well from an informational, argumentative, or expressive perspective, in other words, students need to use their analytical capability to concentrate their writing.

    A sense of purpose will connect to developing a central idea or thesis. Knowing what kind of writing is expected of them (informational? argumentative? expressive?) and reviewing the ideas present in their writing to learn assignments will help students accomplish the difficult task of determining a central idea. After reading, class discussion, and writing to learn, students will be more able to determine what they want to say and thus have a beginning point.

    A set of essay instructions can ask students to go after through on these kinds of review and explorations to arrive at a working central idea. Students can be encouraged to begin with a working central idea in order to develop a preliminary draft. Ideas might be harshly sketched out to begin with using the following seed sentences as frames:

    I am analyzing/arguing about_______________ in order to understand/examine_______________________.

    Most people believe that _____________________, but my investigation has shown that __________________.

    We know this _____________ about ____________; we also need to know this __________________ about ____________________________.

    Seed sentences can help students get began writing and can then be further refined later in the process of writing. Working with seed sentences might also be a productive treatment to writing to learn.

  • Effective assignments should also ask students to consider AUDIENCE.

    Are they to be thinking of the teacher exclusively when completing the assignment?

    Should they be thinking of a general educated audience, or an audience only of their peers?

    Should they be thinking of the audience as fully or partially informed about the subject?

    Will the audience hold values similar to or different from the writer?

    How much will the audience identify with the subject and topic under examine?

    Such considerations will help determine the form and style choices that can be made and are central to the writing task.

  • Once the purpose, central idea, and audience have been established as part of the assignment, consider providing students extra advice on the STRUCTURE of their writing. They might bear in mind these structural possibilities:
  • Thesis/Support: the most common deductive structure whereby students establish a central idea or thesis after introducing the subject in the introduction and then provide a series of supporting ideas with examples, facts, anecdotes, testimony, statistics, quotations, and other details.
  • Problem/Solution: an effective two-part structure whereby students very first examine the nature of a specific problem and then describe an effective solution that carries with it their central claim about the subject. The writing situation considers a problem to which the student is proposing a solution. Students can be asked to consider the costs and benefits of the solution proposed.
  • Question/Reaction: another two-part structure that is formed around an analysis of a central question or set of questions that are pertinent to a subject and then moves into a claim/analysis of possible answers.
  • Narrative/Analysis: a structure building on story technologies whereby the student details what is happening/has happened and uses these events to develop an analysis/argument about the subject.
  • Eventually, an assignment can also be accompanied by a MODEL that illustrates the expectation for writing. Successful assignments can be saved and copied for such purposes in future classes.

    The following handouts provide examples of essay assignments that stress various purposes, sense of audience, and structural ideas:


    Many academic assignments ask students to write very specifically about what they’ve read. The following links provide helpful structures for such assignments:

    Unlike essay assignments or research projects, an essay exam has a limited purpose and audience: the teacher wants the student to demonstrate understanding of specific course material and to do so in an articulate manner.

    These general investigate habit hints might be useful as students work with material that will be covered by essay exams:

    1. take careful notes during relevant class discussion.
    2. read assigned chapters critically; that is, react in a writer’s notebook with summary and response, plus annotate the text.
    3. review notes regularly before the essay exam.
    4. prepare notes or outlines ahead of time that reorganize the material around key topics or issues.

    During the exam period itself

  • read the exam question all the way through at least twice in order to stick to the question being asked and to reaction it fully.
  • examine the key words in the question and make sure to consider the difference in implication inbetween words like “summarize” or “define.”
  • make a brief outline of the main ideas to be covered.
  • write a thesis sentence that responds directly to the question being asked, using some of the the question’s words.
  • write the essay, attempting to write clearly and concisely the very first time since there won’t be much time to rewrite. Make sure to use slew of specific references to the material in question.
  • Attempt to correct as many errors in spelling and mechanics as you can find before you forearm in your exam. Be as legible as possible but don?t recopy.
  • Exam Questions

    Exam questions should be written so that students understand clearly what is expected of them. Is the purpose of the exam question:

  • to demonstrate that students have acquired a specific bod of skill?
  • to demonstrate that students can create an informed opinion based on this assets of skill?
  • to display that students can create a coaxing argument based on this figure of skill?
  • to demonstrate that students can critically evaluate and acknowledge the ideas they have been reading about and working with?
  • Common “Key” Words for Essay Exams and Ideas for Organizing Around Them

  • Comparison – Contrast. “compare and contrast” Analyzes similarities and differences

    Two ways to organize:

  • Definition. “define” Specifies distinctive characteristics.

    How to organize: begin with the term to be defined and discuss the group to which it belongs, then showcase how the term is different from other members of the group.

    Make sure to include its significant features. Use details, comparisons, and examples.

    Analysis. “analyze” or “discuss” or “explain” Violates topic into its elements. Explains and compares main points of view on the topic.

    How to organize: analysis involves a careful cracking of something into its various parts. Using transitional words like “very first, 2nd, third?” or “next,” “another,” “in addition” will add coherence to your analysis.

    Cause and Effect. “cause” “why” “effects”

    How to organize: like analysis questions, cause and effect questions ask you to trace something?s features, in this case, specific effects of a particular cause or vice versa. Using transitional words will help you organize coherently, especially ?because. therefore. and ?consequently.?

    Writing the Essay Exam

    Commencing the essay: You don’t need an embellished, titillating opening for a timed essay. Instead, you can state your thesis right away and give a brief overview of what the rest of the essay will do. This will instantaneously display your guideline over the subject. Don’t just restate the question without answering it. Always include your response to the question in the intro.

    Developing the essay: The assets of your essay should be developed with the same attention to logical organization, coherence, and adequate development that you provide in any academic paper. Support your thesis with solid generalizations and specific, relevant details. Don’t pack out the essay by repeating yourself. Don’t use subjective feelings instead of real analysis.

    Concluding the essay: Here you can shortly restate the thesis in fresh words, perhaps pointing to broader implications in a way that goes after logically from what you’ve written rather than in a way that requests more explanation.

    Before submitting the essay: Reread and correct any illegible sections. Make sure your handwriting can be read. Check for spelling, grammatical mistakes, and accidental omissions. If you find any material that seems irrelevant, cross it out and add other information on another page, keying the addition to the page where it belongs.


    For more helpful assistance on getting embarked, organizing, and completing a draft, visit the Purdue On-Line Writing Lab.

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