Sample Writing Assignments

Assignments that are particularly useful for encouraging learning

  • Journals/Learning Logs/Thinkbooks: students keep a record of what they're learning and connect new information to what they already know.
  • Admit Slips: students hand in a sentence or two "admitting something:" Felicia doesn't understand vectors; Catherine finally finished her titration correctly. These give a teacher a sense of what is--and what isn't--being learned
  • "Timed" or "Free" Writings: before class, students write freely for 5-10 minutes on what they think will be covered. Before discussion, students write their ideas and opinions so they have something to say. At the end of class, students review what has been covered and ask questions.
  • Letters/Role Playing: students write letters to important people in a subject area about what they're learning (Benjamin Franklin, B.F. Skinner, James Watson) or write as if they were another person (a young woman in 1776, a stock broker in 1929.) Or they write a letter to you, the teacher, telling you something about the subject or the class.
  • Reteaching: students explain what they're learning to someone else.
  • Multiple drafts of formal papers, essay tests: professional writers and thinkers use writing to solidify ideas and form. They don't expect to "get it right the first time." Give students the same opportunity to wrestle with ideas and receive feedback before evaluation.
  • Thinking on paper: students "think out loud" on paper, explaining a problem to themselves as they solve it. This can help students remember the process of solving that sort of problem and let the teacher see where confusion may arise.
  • Lists: of ingredients in a situation or experiment, or steps in a process, causes or effects or ideas.
  • Recording observations: of experiments, people, the world around them, the media, patterns, etc.
  • Observation reports: putting these observations together and making something of them.
  • Interviews: of people in the field, each other, imaginary interviews with people they've studied.
  • Responses: having students respond to class activities (role-playing, simulations, experiments, readings, class discussion, presentations) can both help them relate the material to their own concerns and remember it better.
  • Plans: have them write out a plan for something they will later do: an experiment, a computer program, a paper, an interview, studying for a test.
  • Parallel writing: explaining a process as they do it (for example, how they run an experiment as they go through it) can make students more aware of the process and its components and, again, help them remember it.


Assignments that particularly useful for demonstrating knowledge

  • Research papers: written by students singly or in groups; dealing with information you, the teacher, know or that would be new to both the student and you; one paper or several.
  • Essays dealing with particular questions or problems either you or the students come up with, trying to solve them, or merely exploring or presenting them.
  • Letters to persons or groups clarifying problems or questions and making recommendations: letters to the editor about acid rain, role-playing letters to historical figures, letters to scientists apprising them of discoveries since their deaths.
  • Creative writing incorporating or representing what has been learned: plays comparing political figures' views, poems showing proficiency with new terminology, semi-fictional accounts of historical events.
  • Formal proposals: singly or in groups, students can write proposals for projects or future study (imaginary or possible), can create utopian societies and means of achieving them, can design scientific apparatus and justify their creation.