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Strategies for Developing Assignments

Meaningful assignments provide students with opportunities to engage in and/or reinforce important course concepts. When developing assignments, consider the following strategies:

  • Initially, reflect on questions such as the following:
    1. What is the rationale for the assignment?
    2. Does the assignment have a direct link to one or more of the most important learning outcomes?
    3. Will the assignment be viewed as worthy of the students' time or as "busy work?"
    4. Will it warrant my time in terms of providing timely, beneficial feedback to the students?
    5. What pre-knowledge or skills will my students possess and have the opportunity to strengthen?
    6. What course content do I need students to engage with critically?
  • Develop assignments that are challenging, but neither too easy nor too difficult. Feelings of frustration and anxiety can negatively impact motivation, especially if students already have doubts about their abilities.
  • At the beginning of the semester, consider offering shorter and more frequent assignments to allow students to build upon previous work and to help them develop their knowledge and skills. This strategy also minimizes the damage one poor grade can have on the final grade.
  • If you require large projects or research papers, consider breaking them into smaller, more manageable pieces, which are graded and returned on an ongoing basis. This practice makes grading more manageable and provides students with valuable, ongoing feedback.
  • Consider making the first (ungraded) assignment a preview of the course to assess your students’ prior knowledge. The results will help you direct students to the appropriate resources and support, and assist you in determining at what level to direct your teaching.
  • Create authentic assignments that help students see the direct application of the course to “real life.” In other words, have them do something they would actually do if they were a professional in your field, such as writing a report for a real client or solving problems typically encountered.
  • If you are not sure how much to assign, the general rule of thumb is to expect students to spend two to three hours studying per hour of in-class time (Davis, 1993).
  • Before giving an assignment to students, try it yourself. Or, ask a colleague to try it and/or at least read the instructions. This will help you understand where your instructions might be unclear and circumvent student confusion.
  • For each assignment, provide detailed written instructions and review them in class. This practice provides an opportunity for students to ask questions and seek clarification, and gives them something to refer to while they are working.
  • So that students don’t view it as busywork, include your rationale with each assignment. Also, ask your students what value they see in the assignment.
  • In terms of grading, it isn’t necessary to grade everything. You can tell students in advance that a portion of the homework will be graded.
  • Collect assignments/homework at the onset of class, so that students will arrive on time.
  • Model the behavior you desire in students by being prompt in returning homework (i.e., within two to three class periods, depending on the length of the assignment).

References

"Assignments and Homework." Center for Excellence in Teaching. U of Southern California, 2010. Web. 13 Jan. 2010.

"Developing Assignments." Wac Wiki. Ohio State U, 2009. Web. 13 Jan. 2010.

DeZure, D. "Structuring Assignments for Success." Whys and Ways of Teaching 9.1 (1999): n. pag. Web. 13 Jan. 2010.

Davis, B. G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.

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