Where To Find Help For My Writing Assignment Ideas

Posted on by Dihn

Why integrate writing assignments?
How can you help students improve their writing?
Responding to low-stakes writing
How can you design an effective writing assignment?
How can you provide effective feedback on student writing?
What are some considerations when integrating writing assignments into your course?

Why integrate writing assignments?

Writing assignments can:

  • Introduce and train students in the writing conventions of a field.
  • Encourage students to process course material more deeply.
  • Allow you to assess students’ comprehension of course topics.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to develop writing and research skills.

How can you help students improve their writing?

  • Break up larger writing assignments into smaller pieces (annotated bibliography, paper outline, first draft, second draft, etc.) and provide opportunities for feedback at each step. Consider grading students at each step, thereby drawing focus to the writing process in addition to the final product.
  • Integrate self-assessment and peer-assessment into your class. To help students develop these skills, allow them to practice assessing each other’s writing and provide feedback on their comments.
  • Display a piece of writing (or multiple pieces of varying quality) on an overhead or on handouts.
  • Ask students to assess the writing (use a rubric, or have students rate the quality from 1-5).
  • Give students a few minutes to discuss and explain their assessment with a partner.
  • Call on a few students to share their assessments with the class.
  • Provide your own assessment and the reasoning behind it.
  • Address any questions students have.
  • Start small at the beginning of the semester with low-stakes writing activities that contribute little, if at all, to final course grades. These types of activities allow you to gauge students' writing levels and give students opportunities for practice and feedback.

Some low-stakes writing activities:

Write-pair-share

  • Give students two minutes to write down their response to a question, or reflect on material.
  • Have students turn to a partner and share their thoughts.
  • After an announced time limit, call on a few students to share their ideas with the class.

Free writing

To help students generate ideas and develop writing fluency, provide some time in class for them to complete impromptu writing.

  • Have students write out the process for solving a problem.
  • Give a sample exam essay question.
  • Ask students to apply a theory to a real world situation.
  • Have students explain a concept and make connections to their personal experiences.

One-minute-paper (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 148-153)

  • Ask students to briefly summarize the major points of the last lecture, or recap the lecture or mini-lecture you have just completed. Students can also summarize what they learned from homework or readings.

Journaling/ Reflective writing

  • Have students respond to a reading in writing. Have students provide a summary of main points and list any questions that remain.
  • Ask students to reflect on their own learning by listing the main points they understood from a previous lecture or homework assignment and listing other points that were less clear.
  • Before introducing a new topic, have students start a K-W-L chart. Students first reflect on what they know (K) and what they want to know (W). Afterwards, students reflect on what they have learned (L).
  • Consider asking students to post their responses on a class website, or establish email writing partners so pairs of students send can their reflections to one another.

One-sentence summary (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 183-187)

  • Have students answer these questions about any given topic: Who does what to whom, when, where, how and why?
  • Ask students to condense the answers to those questions into a single sentence.

Responding to low-stakes writing:

  • For general class feedback, ask students to pass in their writing anonymously; review all the responses (or a smaller sample size for larger classes); choose a few well-written responses to share with the class (characteristics of the writing quality can be discussed); and provide feedback on general issues you noticed in other responses.
  • For individualized feedback, ask students to write their names on their responses, review them, and write your feedback directly on their work. For larger classes, provide feedback to smaller samples (e.g. 25 students each time you complete a low-stakes writing assignment until all students have received feedback.)
  • Ask students to complete peer reviews. Provide guiding questions for reviewers to answer.

How can you design an effective writing assignment?

  • Consider how students in your course should be able to write in their academic and/or professional career:
  • With what purpose?
  • For what audience?
  • In what manner?
  • Following which conventions?
  • Design your writing assignments based on the skills students need to develop or acquire (e.g. proposal, abstract, poster session, book review, report, research paper, etc.).
  • Make sure the description of the writing assignment task is clear and precise.
  • Consider creating and providing a list of guidelines or a rubric.

How can you provide effective feedback on student writing?

  • Elbow & Sorcinelli (2011, pg. 222-223) suggest the following:
  • Approach responding to student writing as a dialogue. Consider having students produce a cover page for their writing assignment reflecting on the following questions: What are the main points? How did this writing assignment go? For drafts: What questions do you have for me, as a reader? For a revised draft: What changes have you made? This dialogue can continue if you require students to respond to your feedback by summarizing what they understood.
  • Review the whole writing assignment before making any comments. Students can absorb a few suggestions, so consider what your most important suggestions will be.
  • Consider writing comments on a separate piece of paper rather than in the margins.
  • Use plain language rather than technical or grammatical terms. For example, comment on the tone of writing (perhaps distant or too formal) instead of commenting on using too many passive grammatical structures.
  • When critiquing writing, comment also on positive aspects the student can build upon, rather than merely pointing out what the student is doing wrong.
  • Describe your experiences as a reader (e.g. "This is what I see as your main points," "This is what I notice about the organization, style, etc.").
  • Consider using a rubric.

What are some considerations when integrating writing assignments into your course?

  • Writing assignments can range from one-minute reflection pieces to exam essays to more involved research papers. The more writing practice and feedback students receive, the more likely they are to develop stronger writing skills.
  • Students vary in their research skills. For research assignments, arrange for a library session, or work with a Cornell librarian to establish activities that help develop information competency.
  • Peer-assessment opportunities are beneficial for students as they allow opportunities for students to receive additional feedback and to practice critically assessing the writing of others.
  • Providing feedback on writing assignments is an involved task. Plan ahead how you will provide feedback. Timesaving tactics include using a rubric, staggering due dates for written assignments, and integrating peer review throughout the revision process.

References

Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Elbow, P & Sorcinelli, M.D. (2011). Using high-stakes and low-stakes writing to enhance learning. in M. Svinicki & W. McKeachie's McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Completing a piece of writing requires your child to use many different skills at once — organizing their ideas, holding their pencil correctly, forming letters, spelling words, using correct grammar, punctuating sentences, using vocabulary — and they have to do all of this while accessing information in their “working memory” and staying on topic. If your child struggles with one or more of these processes, writing can quickly start to feel labored and arduous. By using these tips and exercising a little patience, you can support your child as they learn to write confidently and skillfully.

  1. Under the Common Core standards, kids are writing more than ever, across multiple subjects. Kids who struggle with writing may become reluctant to write, so it’s important to take action if you think your child is struggling. Talk about any concerns you have about your child’s writing with their teacher.
  2. Begin each homework session by asking your child to explain what they are expected to do. Ask questions to help them clarify the details of the assignment. Their answers will indicate how much support they’ll need — whether they will be able to work independently or if they’ll need some help to get started.
  3. Although you may be tempted, don’t write reports or papers for your child or tell them what to write. Instead, put yourself in the role of writing coach and offer encouragement, guidance, and feedback from the sidelines.
  4. If you aren’t around when your child completes their homework, let them know you’ll look it over when you get home. Be sure to follow through on your promise. Emphasize that you’re doing this to help them, not judge them.
  5. When offering feedback about your child’s work, start with positive statements such as, “You remembered to indent paragraphs; that’s great progress,” or “You have some interesting ideas in this part. What happens next?” Focus on the quality of the effort rather than on small errors, especially as the first feedback you offer.
  6. Make sure your child sees you writing at home. Write your child messages and leave them on the refrigerator. Write emails, letters, or postcards to friends and relatives. Post a daily or weekly calendar, make a shopping list, or write in a journal.
  7. Encourage your child to write short stories or keep a journal. As often as possible, encourage them to write on a topic of their own choosing. If they have favorite book or movie characters, suggest that they make up their own stories starring their favorite characters.
  8. Have your child make an album of photographs they’ve taken and write a brief description under each picture.
  9. Encourage your child to develop interests they can investigate, research, and write about to become an expert on a topic.
  10. Provide a place to complete writing assignments that has everything they’ll need, including a clear surface, sharpened pencils, erasers, and good lighting.
  11. When they write, check to see if your child is sitting up straight with both feet on the floor, holding the pencil correctly, and keeping their arm from the elbow to the wrist on the table or desk for support. Be sure that they slants the paper slightly to the left (45 degrees) for right-handers or slightly to the right (45 degrees) for left-handers.
  12. Your child may find that the mechanics of writing are easier if they use a pencil grip or a slantboard. Special paper with raised lines can help new writers stay within the lines.
  13. Encourage your child to learn keyboarding (typing) skills as early as possible. Third grade is a good time to begin. Computers encourage writing and give immediate feedback about spelling and grammar.
  14. For children who feel overwhelmed by longer writing assignments, it can help to break the assignment down into shorter chunks or drafts.
  15. Brainstorm sessions are helpful for starting the writing process. Encourage your child to talk about the main idea they want to get across and what points they can make that will support that idea. Or to talk through the plot points of a storyline.
  16. Revise, revise, revise! Emphasize that good writing always involves multiple drafts. First drafts are mainly for writing ideas or topic information. Second drafts would include organizing content, correcting grammar, checking punctuation, and correcting spelling.
  17. When the piece of writing is done, encourage your child to read it aloud. They might notice additional things they think should be revised.
  18. For long-term writing projects, help your child organize what they’re going to write over a period of several weeks. When writing assignments are broken down into smaller parts, you and the teacher can offer feedback and suggestions along the way.
  19. Learning to write well takes lots of practice and patience, so keep your child from getting discouraged by individual assignments and encourage them to find reasons to write every day.

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