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Creating Good Writing Activities and Assignments

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Writing in the Disciplines

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Creating Good Writing Activities and Assignments

The following suggestions can help you to design interesting, motivating writing activities and assignments that implement the principles of WAC.

  1. Use writing assignments to encourage students to think about subject matter. This is what determines the purpose of WAC — teaching students to think.
  2. Design writing assignments that encourage students to discover new relationships and to restructure the frames that shape their ways of understanding the course content.
  3. State clearly what thinking and writing tasks are expected. Otherwise, and even in spite of it, students may make up their own.
  4. Create a "cross-discipline" prompt which allows students to apply knowledge from different subjects or classes although it may not require such application. This is the true meaning of WAC - application, synthesis, analysis.
  5. As each assignment is introduced, reinforce the objective of "writing to learn" and deemphasize "writing for evaluation". Also, explain the specific objectives of a particular assignment and how that assignment helps to achieve the objectives for the course. For example, journals help students to explore their own thinking, while other assignments such as summaries help them to improve their reading skills. Process logs teach them about data-collection techniques, while synthesis of journal articles help them to improve their analytic skills.
  6. Give students an assignment sheet that guides them through the thinking processes and writing processes. The assignment sheet can include information on the audience (e.g., peers, field professionals), purpose (to demonstrate, illustrate, or persuade), and genre (research proposal, critique).
  7. Provide students with suggestions on how to get information, organize their first draft, edit, and even use a word processor.
  8. Find out if students have done the kind of writing required for an assignment. For example, students may be familiar with analysis of short stories and novels, but unfamiliar with analysis of the methodology in a research report. Help them to apply what they already know to the new kind of writing. Clarify the requirements for the kind of writing that is unfamiliar to them.
  9. Let students know how much and what kind of written feedback you will give them.
  10. Inform students whether you are available for conferencing on the assignment and whether or not they can revise what they hand in.
  11. When you ask students to revise an assignment, clarify what they should address in a revision, and give examples of effective revision.
  12. Imagine how you would do the assignment if you had to. This will help you to discuss predictable problems and suggest useful strategies.
  13. Whenever possible, ask students to think about relationships between theory and practice, principles and experience, facts and their applications.
  14. Encourage students to draw on assigned readings, class discussions, and personal experiences as "data." They don’t necessarily have to go to the library to develop an understanding of what "research" is.
  15. Make the assignment interesting and inspiring so that students are motivated to write. Challenge their imaginations to "play" with the subject and yet treat it seriously.
  16. Before students begin writing, give them the criteria for evaluation in writing and discuss criteria. Also, give them assignment guidelines. Continue the discussion as students proceed through the assignment.
  17. Use examples of student work from previous classes that represent varying levels. Design an activity in which students assess the models using the criteria given.
  18. Share your own writing with students when it serves as an effective example of professional writing to which they are aspiring. For example, show them your summary of a philosophical critique, or your observation log done on a geological field trip. Even if it is in rough draft form, it demonstrates the value and relevance of the writing process.