The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Understanding Assignments

What this handout is about.

The first step in any successful college writing venture is reading the assignment. While this sounds like a simple task, it can be a tough one. This handout will help you unravel your assignment and begin to craft an effective response. Much of the following advice will involve translating typical assignment terms and practices into meaningful clues to the type of writing your instructor expects. See our short video for more tips.

Basic beginnings

Regardless of the assignment, department, or instructor, adopting these two habits will serve you well :

  • Read the assignment carefully as soon as you receive it. Do not put this task off—reading the assignment at the beginning will save you time, stress, and problems later. An assignment can look pretty straightforward at first, particularly if the instructor has provided lots of information. That does not mean it will not take time and effort to complete; you may even have to learn a new skill to complete the assignment.
  • Ask the instructor about anything you do not understand. Do not hesitate to approach your instructor. Instructors would prefer to set you straight before you hand the paper in. That’s also when you will find their feedback most useful.

Assignment formats

Many assignments follow a basic format. Assignments often begin with an overview of the topic, include a central verb or verbs that describe the task, and offer some additional suggestions, questions, or prompts to get you started.

An Overview of Some Kind

The instructor might set the stage with some general discussion of the subject of the assignment, introduce the topic, or remind you of something pertinent that you have discussed in class. For example:

“Throughout history, gerbils have played a key role in politics,” or “In the last few weeks of class, we have focused on the evening wear of the housefly …”

The Task of the Assignment

Pay attention; this part tells you what to do when you write the paper. Look for the key verb or verbs in the sentence. Words like analyze, summarize, or compare direct you to think about your topic in a certain way. Also pay attention to words such as how, what, when, where, and why; these words guide your attention toward specific information. (See the section in this handout titled “Key Terms” for more information.)

“Analyze the effect that gerbils had on the Russian Revolution”, or “Suggest an interpretation of housefly undergarments that differs from Darwin’s.”

Additional Material to Think about

Here you will find some questions to use as springboards as you begin to think about the topic. Instructors usually include these questions as suggestions rather than requirements. Do not feel compelled to answer every question unless the instructor asks you to do so. Pay attention to the order of the questions. Sometimes they suggest the thinking process your instructor imagines you will need to follow to begin thinking about the topic.

“You may wish to consider the differing views held by Communist gerbils vs. Monarchist gerbils, or Can there be such a thing as ‘the housefly garment industry’ or is it just a home-based craft?”

These are the instructor’s comments about writing expectations:

“Be concise”, “Write effectively”, or “Argue furiously.”

Technical Details

These instructions usually indicate format rules or guidelines.

“Your paper must be typed in Palatino font on gray paper and must not exceed 600 pages. It is due on the anniversary of Mao Tse-tung’s death.”

The assignment’s parts may not appear in exactly this order, and each part may be very long or really short. Nonetheless, being aware of this standard pattern can help you understand what your instructor wants you to do.

Interpreting the assignment

Ask yourself a few basic questions as you read and jot down the answers on the assignment sheet:

Why did your instructor ask you to do this particular task?

Who is your audience.

  • What kind of evidence do you need to support your ideas?

What kind of writing style is acceptable?

  • What are the absolute rules of the paper?

Try to look at the question from the point of view of the instructor. Recognize that your instructor has a reason for giving you this assignment and for giving it to you at a particular point in the semester. In every assignment, the instructor has a challenge for you. This challenge could be anything from demonstrating an ability to think clearly to demonstrating an ability to use the library. See the assignment not as a vague suggestion of what to do but as an opportunity to show that you can handle the course material as directed. Paper assignments give you more than a topic to discuss—they ask you to do something with the topic. Keep reminding yourself of that. Be careful to avoid the other extreme as well: do not read more into the assignment than what is there.

Of course, your instructor has given you an assignment so that he or she will be able to assess your understanding of the course material and give you an appropriate grade. But there is more to it than that. Your instructor has tried to design a learning experience of some kind. Your instructor wants you to think about something in a particular way for a particular reason. If you read the course description at the beginning of your syllabus, review the assigned readings, and consider the assignment itself, you may begin to see the plan, purpose, or approach to the subject matter that your instructor has created for you. If you still aren’t sure of the assignment’s goals, try asking the instructor. For help with this, see our handout on getting feedback .

Given your instructor’s efforts, it helps to answer the question: What is my purpose in completing this assignment? Is it to gather research from a variety of outside sources and present a coherent picture? Is it to take material I have been learning in class and apply it to a new situation? Is it to prove a point one way or another? Key words from the assignment can help you figure this out. Look for key terms in the form of active verbs that tell you what to do.

Key Terms: Finding Those Active Verbs

Here are some common key words and definitions to help you think about assignment terms:

Information words Ask you to demonstrate what you know about the subject, such as who, what, when, where, how, and why.

  • define —give the subject’s meaning (according to someone or something). Sometimes you have to give more than one view on the subject’s meaning
  • describe —provide details about the subject by answering question words (such as who, what, when, where, how, and why); you might also give details related to the five senses (what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell)
  • explain —give reasons why or examples of how something happened
  • illustrate —give descriptive examples of the subject and show how each is connected with the subject
  • summarize —briefly list the important ideas you learned about the subject
  • trace —outline how something has changed or developed from an earlier time to its current form
  • research —gather material from outside sources about the subject, often with the implication or requirement that you will analyze what you have found

Relation words Ask you to demonstrate how things are connected.

  • compare —show how two or more things are similar (and, sometimes, different)
  • contrast —show how two or more things are dissimilar
  • apply—use details that you’ve been given to demonstrate how an idea, theory, or concept works in a particular situation
  • cause —show how one event or series of events made something else happen
  • relate —show or describe the connections between things

Interpretation words Ask you to defend ideas of your own about the subject. Do not see these words as requesting opinion alone (unless the assignment specifically says so), but as requiring opinion that is supported by concrete evidence. Remember examples, principles, definitions, or concepts from class or research and use them in your interpretation.

  • assess —summarize your opinion of the subject and measure it against something
  • prove, justify —give reasons or examples to demonstrate how or why something is the truth
  • evaluate, respond —state your opinion of the subject as good, bad, or some combination of the two, with examples and reasons
  • support —give reasons or evidence for something you believe (be sure to state clearly what it is that you believe)
  • synthesize —put two or more things together that have not been put together in class or in your readings before; do not just summarize one and then the other and say that they are similar or different—you must provide a reason for putting them together that runs all the way through the paper
  • analyze —determine how individual parts create or relate to the whole, figure out how something works, what it might mean, or why it is important
  • argue —take a side and defend it with evidence against the other side

More Clues to Your Purpose As you read the assignment, think about what the teacher does in class:

  • What kinds of textbooks or coursepack did your instructor choose for the course—ones that provide background information, explain theories or perspectives, or argue a point of view?
  • In lecture, does your instructor ask your opinion, try to prove her point of view, or use keywords that show up again in the assignment?
  • What kinds of assignments are typical in this discipline? Social science classes often expect more research. Humanities classes thrive on interpretation and analysis.
  • How do the assignments, readings, and lectures work together in the course? Instructors spend time designing courses, sometimes even arguing with their peers about the most effective course materials. Figuring out the overall design to the course will help you understand what each assignment is meant to achieve.

Now, what about your reader? Most undergraduates think of their audience as the instructor. True, your instructor is a good person to keep in mind as you write. But for the purposes of a good paper, think of your audience as someone like your roommate: smart enough to understand a clear, logical argument, but not someone who already knows exactly what is going on in your particular paper. Remember, even if the instructor knows everything there is to know about your paper topic, he or she still has to read your paper and assess your understanding. In other words, teach the material to your reader.

Aiming a paper at your audience happens in two ways: you make decisions about the tone and the level of information you want to convey.

  • Tone means the “voice” of your paper. Should you be chatty, formal, or objective? Usually you will find some happy medium—you do not want to alienate your reader by sounding condescending or superior, but you do not want to, um, like, totally wig on the man, you know? Eschew ostentatious erudition: some students think the way to sound academic is to use big words. Be careful—you can sound ridiculous, especially if you use the wrong big words.
  • The level of information you use depends on who you think your audience is. If you imagine your audience as your instructor and she already knows everything you have to say, you may find yourself leaving out key information that can cause your argument to be unconvincing and illogical. But you do not have to explain every single word or issue. If you are telling your roommate what happened on your favorite science fiction TV show last night, you do not say, “First a dark-haired white man of average height, wearing a suit and carrying a flashlight, walked into the room. Then a purple alien with fifteen arms and at least three eyes turned around. Then the man smiled slightly. In the background, you could hear a clock ticking. The room was fairly dark and had at least two windows that I saw.” You also do not say, “This guy found some aliens. The end.” Find some balance of useful details that support your main point.

You’ll find a much more detailed discussion of these concepts in our handout on audience .

The Grim Truth

With a few exceptions (including some lab and ethnography reports), you are probably being asked to make an argument. You must convince your audience. It is easy to forget this aim when you are researching and writing; as you become involved in your subject matter, you may become enmeshed in the details and focus on learning or simply telling the information you have found. You need to do more than just repeat what you have read. Your writing should have a point, and you should be able to say it in a sentence. Sometimes instructors call this sentence a “thesis” or a “claim.”

So, if your instructor tells you to write about some aspect of oral hygiene, you do not want to just list: “First, you brush your teeth with a soft brush and some peanut butter. Then, you floss with unwaxed, bologna-flavored string. Finally, gargle with bourbon.” Instead, you could say, “Of all the oral cleaning methods, sandblasting removes the most plaque. Therefore it should be recommended by the American Dental Association.” Or, “From an aesthetic perspective, moldy teeth can be quite charming. However, their joys are short-lived.”

Convincing the reader of your argument is the goal of academic writing. It doesn’t have to say “argument” anywhere in the assignment for you to need one. Look at the assignment and think about what kind of argument you could make about it instead of just seeing it as a checklist of information you have to present. For help with understanding the role of argument in academic writing, see our handout on argument .

What kind of evidence do you need?

There are many kinds of evidence, and what type of evidence will work for your assignment can depend on several factors–the discipline, the parameters of the assignment, and your instructor’s preference. Should you use statistics? Historical examples? Do you need to conduct your own experiment? Can you rely on personal experience? See our handout on evidence for suggestions on how to use evidence appropriately.

Make sure you are clear about this part of the assignment, because your use of evidence will be crucial in writing a successful paper. You are not just learning how to argue; you are learning how to argue with specific types of materials and ideas. Ask your instructor what counts as acceptable evidence. You can also ask a librarian for help. No matter what kind of evidence you use, be sure to cite it correctly—see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial .

You cannot always tell from the assignment just what sort of writing style your instructor expects. The instructor may be really laid back in class but still expect you to sound formal in writing. Or the instructor may be fairly formal in class and ask you to write a reflection paper where you need to use “I” and speak from your own experience.

Try to avoid false associations of a particular field with a style (“art historians like wacky creativity,” or “political scientists are boring and just give facts”) and look instead to the types of readings you have been given in class. No one expects you to write like Plato—just use the readings as a guide for what is standard or preferable to your instructor. When in doubt, ask your instructor about the level of formality she or he expects.

No matter what field you are writing for or what facts you are including, if you do not write so that your reader can understand your main idea, you have wasted your time. So make clarity your main goal. For specific help with style, see our handout on style .

Technical details about the assignment

The technical information you are given in an assignment always seems like the easy part. This section can actually give you lots of little hints about approaching the task. Find out if elements such as page length and citation format (see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial ) are negotiable. Some professors do not have strong preferences as long as you are consistent and fully answer the assignment. Some professors are very specific and will deduct big points for deviations.

Usually, the page length tells you something important: The instructor thinks the size of the paper is appropriate to the assignment’s parameters. In plain English, your instructor is telling you how many pages it should take for you to answer the question as fully as you are expected to. So if an assignment is two pages long, you cannot pad your paper with examples or reword your main idea several times. Hit your one point early, defend it with the clearest example, and finish quickly. If an assignment is ten pages long, you can be more complex in your main points and examples—and if you can only produce five pages for that assignment, you need to see someone for help—as soon as possible.

Tricks that don’t work

Your instructors are not fooled when you:

  • spend more time on the cover page than the essay —graphics, cool binders, and cute titles are no replacement for a well-written paper.
  • use huge fonts, wide margins, or extra spacing to pad the page length —these tricks are immediately obvious to the eye. Most instructors use the same word processor you do. They know what’s possible. Such tactics are especially damning when the instructor has a stack of 60 papers to grade and yours is the only one that low-flying airplane pilots could read.
  • use a paper from another class that covered “sort of similar” material . Again, the instructor has a particular task for you to fulfill in the assignment that usually relates to course material and lectures. Your other paper may not cover this material, and turning in the same paper for more than one course may constitute an Honor Code violation . Ask the instructor—it can’t hurt.
  • get all wacky and “creative” before you answer the question . Showing that you are able to think beyond the boundaries of a simple assignment can be good, but you must do what the assignment calls for first. Again, check with your instructor. A humorous tone can be refreshing for someone grading a stack of papers, but it will not get you a good grade if you have not fulfilled the task.

Critical reading of assignments leads to skills in other types of reading and writing. If you get good at figuring out what the real goals of assignments are, you are going to be better at understanding the goals of all of your classes and fields of study.

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How Do I Create Meaningful and Effective Assignments?

Prepared by allison boye, ph.d. teaching, learning, and professional development center.

Assessment is a necessary part of the teaching and learning process, helping us measure whether our students have really learned what we want them to learn. While exams and quizzes are certainly favorite and useful methods of assessment, out of class assignments (written or otherwise) can offer similar insights into our students' learning.  And just as creating a reliable test takes thoughtfulness and skill, so does creating meaningful and effective assignments. Undoubtedly, many instructors have been on the receiving end of disappointing student work, left wondering what went wrong… and often, those problems can be remedied in the future by some simple fine-tuning of the original assignment.  This paper will take a look at some important elements to consider when developing assignments, and offer some easy approaches to creating a valuable assessment experience for all involved.

First Things First…

Before assigning any major tasks to students, it is imperative that you first define a few things for yourself as the instructor:

  • Your goals for the assignment . Why are you assigning this project, and what do you hope your students will gain from completing it? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you aim to measure with this assignment?  Creating assignments is a major part of overall course design, and every project you assign should clearly align with your goals for the course in general.  For instance, if you want your students to demonstrate critical thinking, perhaps asking them to simply summarize an article is not the best match for that goal; a more appropriate option might be to ask for an analysis of a controversial issue in the discipline. Ultimately, the connection between the assignment and its purpose should be clear to both you and your students to ensure that it is fulfilling the desired goals and doesn't seem like “busy work.” For some ideas about what kinds of assignments match certain learning goals, take a look at this page from DePaul University's Teaching Commons.
  • Have they experienced “socialization” in the culture of your discipline (Flaxman, 2005)? Are they familiar with any conventions you might want them to know? In other words, do they know the “language” of your discipline, generally accepted style guidelines, or research protocols?
  • Do they know how to conduct research?  Do they know the proper style format, documentation style, acceptable resources, etc.? Do they know how to use the library (Fitzpatrick, 1989) or evaluate resources?
  • What kinds of writing or work have they previously engaged in?  For instance, have they completed long, formal writing assignments or research projects before? Have they ever engaged in analysis, reflection, or argumentation? Have they completed group assignments before?  Do they know how to write a literature review or scientific report?

In his book Engaging Ideas (1996), John Bean provides a great list of questions to help instructors focus on their main teaching goals when creating an assignment (p.78):

1. What are the main units/modules in my course?

2. What are my main learning objectives for each module and for the course?

3. What thinking skills am I trying to develop within each unit and throughout the course?

4. What are the most difficult aspects of my course for students?

5. If I could change my students' study habits, what would I most like to change?

6. What difference do I want my course to make in my students' lives?

What your students need to know

Once you have determined your own goals for the assignment and the levels of your students, you can begin creating your assignment.  However, when introducing your assignment to your students, there are several things you will need to clearly outline for them in order to ensure the most successful assignments possible.

  • First, you will need to articulate the purpose of the assignment . Even though you know why the assignment is important and what it is meant to accomplish, you cannot assume that your students will intuit that purpose. Your students will appreciate an understanding of how the assignment fits into the larger goals of the course and what they will learn from the process (Hass & Osborn, 2007). Being transparent with your students and explaining why you are asking them to complete a given assignment can ultimately help motivate them to complete the assignment more thoughtfully.
  • If you are asking your students to complete a writing assignment, you should define for them the “rhetorical or cognitive mode/s” you want them to employ in their writing (Flaxman, 2005). In other words, use precise verbs that communicate whether you are asking them to analyze, argue, describe, inform, etc.  (Verbs like “explore” or “comment on” can be too vague and cause confusion.) Provide them with a specific task to complete, such as a problem to solve, a question to answer, or an argument to support.  For those who want assignments to lead to top-down, thesis-driven writing, John Bean (1996) suggests presenting a proposition that students must defend or refute, or a problem that demands a thesis answer.
  • It is also a good idea to define the audience you want your students to address with their assignment, if possible – especially with writing assignments.  Otherwise, students will address only the instructor, often assuming little requires explanation or development (Hedengren, 2004; MIT, 1999). Further, asking students to address the instructor, who typically knows more about the topic than the student, places the student in an unnatural rhetorical position.  Instead, you might consider asking your students to prepare their assignments for alternative audiences such as other students who missed last week's classes, a group that opposes their position, or people reading a popular magazine or newspaper.  In fact, a study by Bean (1996) indicated the students often appreciate and enjoy assignments that vary elements such as audience or rhetorical context, so don't be afraid to get creative!
  • Obviously, you will also need to articulate clearly the logistics or “business aspects” of the assignment . In other words, be explicit with your students about required elements such as the format, length, documentation style, writing style (formal or informal?), and deadlines.  One caveat, however: do not allow the logistics of the paper take precedence over the content in your assignment description; if you spend all of your time describing these things, students might suspect that is all you care about in their execution of the assignment.
  • Finally, you should clarify your evaluation criteria for the assignment. What elements of content are most important? Will you grade holistically or weight features separately? How much weight will be given to individual elements, etc?  Another precaution to take when defining requirements for your students is to take care that your instructions and rubric also do not overshadow the content; prescribing too rigidly each element of an assignment can limit students' freedom to explore and discover. According to Beth Finch Hedengren, “A good assignment provides the purpose and guidelines… without dictating exactly what to say” (2004, p. 27).  If you decide to utilize a grading rubric, be sure to provide that to the students along with the assignment description, prior to their completion of the assignment.

A great way to get students engaged with an assignment and build buy-in is to encourage their collaboration on its design and/or on the grading criteria (Hudd, 2003). In his article “Conducting Writing Assignments,” Richard Leahy (2002) offers a few ideas for building in said collaboration:

• Ask the students to develop the grading scale themselves from scratch, starting with choosing the categories.

• Set the grading categories yourself, but ask the students to help write the descriptions.

• Draft the complete grading scale yourself, then give it to your students for review and suggestions.

A Few Do's and Don'ts…

Determining your goals for the assignment and its essential logistics is a good start to creating an effective assignment. However, there are a few more simple factors to consider in your final design. First, here are a few things you should do :

  • Do provide detail in your assignment description . Research has shown that students frequently prefer some guiding constraints when completing assignments (Bean, 1996), and that more detail (within reason) can lead to more successful student responses.  One idea is to provide students with physical assignment handouts , in addition to or instead of a simple description in a syllabus.  This can meet the needs of concrete learners and give them something tangible to refer to.  Likewise, it is often beneficial to make explicit for students the process or steps necessary to complete an assignment, given that students – especially younger ones – might need guidance in planning and time management (MIT, 1999).
  • Do use open-ended questions.  The most effective and challenging assignments focus on questions that lead students to thinking and explaining, rather than simple yes or no answers, whether explicitly part of the assignment description or in the  brainstorming heuristics (Gardner, 2005).
  • Do direct students to appropriate available resources . Giving students pointers about other venues for assistance can help them get started on the right track independently. These kinds of suggestions might include information about campus resources such as the University Writing Center or discipline-specific librarians, suggesting specific journals or books, or even sections of their textbook, or providing them with lists of research ideas or links to acceptable websites.
  • Do consider providing models – both successful and unsuccessful models (Miller, 2007). These models could be provided by past students, or models you have created yourself.  You could even ask students to evaluate the models themselves using the determined evaluation criteria, helping them to visualize the final product, think critically about how to complete the assignment, and ideally, recognize success in their own work.
  • Do consider including a way for students to make the assignment their own. In their study, Hass and Osborn (2007) confirmed the importance of personal engagement for students when completing an assignment.  Indeed, students will be more engaged in an assignment if it is personally meaningful, practical, or purposeful beyond the classroom.  You might think of ways to encourage students to tap into their own experiences or curiosities, to solve or explore a real problem, or connect to the larger community.  Offering variety in assignment selection can also help students feel more individualized, creative, and in control.
  • If your assignment is substantial or long, do consider sequencing it. Far too often, assignments are given as one-shot final products that receive grades at the end of the semester, eternally abandoned by the student.  By sequencing a large assignment, or essentially breaking it down into a systematic approach consisting of interconnected smaller elements (such as a project proposal, an annotated bibliography, or a rough draft, or a series of mini-assignments related to the longer assignment), you can encourage thoughtfulness, complexity, and thoroughness in your students, as well as emphasize process over final product.

Next are a few elements to avoid in your assignments:

  • Do not ask too many questions in your assignment.  In an effort to challenge students, instructors often err in the other direction, asking more questions than students can reasonably address in a single assignment without losing focus. Offering an overly specific “checklist” prompt often leads to externally organized papers, in which inexperienced students “slavishly follow the checklist instead of integrating their ideas into more organically-discovered structure” (Flaxman, 2005).
  • Do not expect or suggest that there is an “ideal” response to the assignment. A common error for instructors is to dictate content of an assignment too rigidly, or to imply that there is a single correct response or a specific conclusion to reach, either explicitly or implicitly (Flaxman, 2005). Undoubtedly, students do not appreciate feeling as if they must read an instructor's mind to complete an assignment successfully, or that their own ideas have nowhere to go, and can lose motivation as a result. Similarly, avoid assignments that simply ask for regurgitation (Miller, 2007). Again, the best assignments invite students to engage in critical thinking, not just reproduce lectures or readings.
  • Do not provide vague or confusing commands . Do students know what you mean when they are asked to “examine” or “discuss” a topic? Return to what you determined about your students' experiences and levels to help you decide what directions will make the most sense to them and what will require more explanation or guidance, and avoid verbiage that might confound them.
  • Do not impose impossible time restraints or require the use of insufficient resources for completion of the assignment.  For instance, if you are asking all of your students to use the same resource, ensure that there are enough copies available for all students to access – or at least put one copy on reserve in the library. Likewise, make sure that you are providing your students with ample time to locate resources and effectively complete the assignment (Fitzpatrick, 1989).

The assignments we give to students don't simply have to be research papers or reports. There are many options for effective yet creative ways to assess your students' learning! Here are just a few:

Journals, Posters, Portfolios, Letters, Brochures, Management plans, Editorials, Instruction Manuals, Imitations of a text, Case studies, Debates, News release, Dialogues, Videos, Collages, Plays, Power Point presentations

Ultimately, the success of student responses to an assignment often rests on the instructor's deliberate design of the assignment. By being purposeful and thoughtful from the beginning, you can ensure that your assignments will not only serve as effective assessment methods, but also engage and delight your students. If you would like further help in constructing or revising an assignment, the Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center is glad to offer individual consultations. In addition, look into some of the resources provided below.

Online Resources

“Creating Effective Assignments” This site, from the University of New Hampshire's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning,  provides a brief overview of effective assignment design, with a focus on determining and communicating goals and expectations.

Gardner, T.  (2005, June 12). Ten Tips for Designing Writing Assignments. Traci's Lists of Ten. This is a brief yet useful list of tips for assignment design, prepared by a writing teacher and curriculum developer for the National Council of Teachers of English .  The website will also link you to several other lists of “ten tips” related to literacy pedagogy.

“How to Create Effective Assignments for College Students.”  http://     This PDF is a simplified bulleted list, prepared by Dr. Toni Zimmerman from Colorado State University, offering some helpful ideas for coming up with creative assignments.

“Learner-Centered Assessment” From the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo, this is a short list of suggestions for the process of designing an assessment with your students' interests in mind. “Matching Learning Goals to Assignment Types.” This is a great page from DePaul University's Teaching Commons, providing a chart that helps instructors match assignments with learning goals.

Additional References Bean, J.C. (1996). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fitzpatrick, R. (1989). Research and writing assignments that reduce fear lead to better papers and more confident students. Writing Across the Curriculum , 3.2, pp. 15 – 24.

Flaxman, R. (2005). Creating meaningful writing assignments. The Teaching Exchange .  Retrieved Jan. 9, 2008 from

Hass, M. & Osborn, J. (2007, August 13). An emic view of student writing and the writing process. Across the Disciplines, 4. 

Hedengren, B.F. (2004). A TA's guide to teaching writing in all disciplines . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Hudd, S. S. (2003, April). Syllabus under construction: Involving students in the creation of class assignments.  Teaching Sociology , 31, pp. 195 – 202.

Leahy, R. (2002). Conducting writing assignments. College Teaching , 50.2, pp. 50 – 54.

Miller, H. (2007). Designing effective writing assignments.  Teaching with writing .  University of Minnesota Center for Writing. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2008, from

MIT Online Writing and Communication Center (1999). Creating Writing Assignments. Retrieved January 9, 2008 from .

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Learning Activities and Assignments: How to Maximize Their Effectiveness

Clearly communicate to students your goals for any assignment or learning activity . Don't assume that students will know what the pedagogical purpose of the assignment is. Have a discussion about your goals and desired learning outcomes, and help students understand how specific aspects of the assignment fit these goals. Be open to making some changes if students have ideas to offer. After the discussion has taken place, summarize it and post it in the learning management system for students to revisit as they work on their assignments. 

Inform your students of assignments as early as possible  in a semester, and help them schedule and plan for them.

Give your students examples of "typical" exemplary assignments from past students, but also of submissions that were both exemplary and unique , so that students can see what you are looking for, but also so that they realize a range of possibilities.

Scaffold smaller activities and assignments towards large assignments so that students understand the trajectory of their work.  This helps students build on their growing knowledge, but also helps them move forward: it's easier for them to continue a learning process than to start a new one. It also combats procrastination and plagiarism, and encourages time on task.

Consider creating flexible intermediate deadlines.  That is, provide deadlines for when particular stages or parts of the assignment should be completed, so that students can understand the ideal pace of their work flow.

If possible, allow students to share draft work with you and with their peers.  They can then use your feedback, and their peer's feedback, to revise and improve their work. 

Offer students performative options.  In other words, allow students to demonstrate their understanding or skill acquisition in alternative or diverse ways. For example, rather than a traditional essay, could a student create a podcast or screencast? Instead of submitting a written assignment, could a student do an in-class poster presentation? 

Meet with students one-on-one as much as possible  to assist with every step in the process, from clarifying the assignment, to brainstorming, to polishing.

Help your students appreciate the importance of formative feedback . Many students are interested only in the grade that an assignment receives (the summative assessment), and will spend little time on the formative feedback that you also provide on their assignments. Help them understand that carefully reviewing the formative feedback will improve their performance in the future. 

Discuss your own working process : the ideal scene for your work, the personal supports you have or try to create, your own blocks and difficulties. Students can benefit from seeing how their instructors work. At the same time, recognize that there are many different learning styles, and that most students won't work the same way that their teachers do, and that this is a good thing.

Use the learning management system to support students as they work on their assignments.  For example, create on online discussion forum where students can ask questions about their assignments, or where they can post drafts of their work in order to receive feedback from peers. 

Be sensitive to cultural differences  that might impact student learning processes and the "products" they create.

Ask students to help you revise assignment prompts for the next time you teach the class , and/or to write down some advice they would give to future students for succeeding at an assignment.

Consider having your program, department, or faculty implement an ePortfolio program for students . Students can use the ePortfolio to archive drafts of their assignments, to reflect on specific assignments or their overall progress, to showcase their best assignments, and more. 

Consider providing verbal feedback on student assignments using new technologies.  For example, the latest (free) version of Adobe Acrobat makes it easy to add audio comments to specific parts of a document. Narrating your comments might be easier than typing them, and you can also be more nuanced with verbal comments than with written comments. 

Make large-print copies of all materials available.  These are beneficial not only for visually impaired students who are registered with  AccessAibility Services , but for any student who is experiencing some degree of vision impairment. 

If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the  CTE Support  page to find the most relevant staff member to contact. 

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Pedagogy - Diversifying Your Teaching Methods, Learning Activities, and Assignments

Inclusive Teaching at a PWI is in a blue rectangle at the top. Below are three green circles for Climate, Pedagogy, and Content. Pedagogy is emphasized with key points: Diversify and critically assess teaching methods, learning activities, assignments.

Definition of Pedagogy 

In the most general sense, pedagogy is all the ways that instructors and students work with the course content. The fundamental learning goal for students is to be able to do “something meaningful” with the course content. Meaningful learning typically results in students working in the middle to upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy . We sometimes find that novice instructors conflate course content with pedagogy. This often results in “teaching as talking” where the presentation of content by the instructor is confused with the learning of content by the students. Think of your course content as clay and pedagogy as the ways you ask students to make “something meaningful” from that clay. Pedagogy is the combination of teaching methods (what instructors do), learning activities (what instructors ask their students to do), and learning assessments (the assignments, projects, or tasks that measure student learning).

Key Idea for Pedagogy

Diversify your pedagogy by varying your teaching methods, learning activities, and assignments. Critically assess your pedagogy through the lens of BIPOC students’ experiences at a PWI . We visualize these two related practices as a cycle because they are iterative and ongoing. Diversifying your pedagogy likely means shedding some typical ways of teaching in your discipline, or the teaching practices you inherited. It likely means doing more active learning and less traditional lecturing. Transforming good pedagogy into equitable pedagogy means rethinking your pedagogy in light of the PWI context and considering the ways your pedagogy may help or hinder learning for BIPOC students. 

PWI Assumptions for Pedagogy

Understanding where students are on the spectrum of novice to expert learning in your discipline or course is a key challenge to implementing effective and inclusive pedagogy (National Research Council 2000). Instructors are typically so far removed from being a novice learner in their disciplines that they struggle to understand where students are on that spectrum. A key PWI assumption is that students understand how your disciplinary knowledge is organized and constructed . Students typically do not understand your discipline or the many other disciplines they are working in during their undergraduate years. Even graduate students may find it puzzling to explain the origins, methodologies, theories, logics, and assumptions of their disciplines. A second PWI assumption is that students are (or should be) academically prepared to learn your discipline . Students may be academically prepared for learning in some disciplines, but unless their high school experience was college preparatory and well supported, students (especially first-generation college students) are likely finding their way through a mysterious journey of different disciplinary conventions and modes of working and thinking (Nelson 1996).

A third PWI assumption is that instructors may confuse students’ academic underpreparation with their intelligence or capacity to learn . Academic preparation is typically a function of one’s high school experience including whether that high school was well resourced or under funded. Whether or not a student receives a quality high school education is usually a structural matter reflecting inequities in our K12 educational systems, not a reflection of an individual student’s ability to learn. A final PWI assumption is that students will learn well in the ways that the instructor learned well . Actually most instructors in higher education self-selected into disciplines that align with their interests, skills, academic preparation, and possibly family and community support. Our students have broader and different goals for seeking a college education and bring a range of skills to their coursework, which may or may not align with instructors’ expectations of how students learn. Inclusive teaching at a PWI means supporting the learning and career goals of our students.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge as a Core Concept

Kind and Chan (2019) propose that Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) is the synthesis of Content Knowledge (expertise about a subject area) and Pedagogical Knowledge (expertise about teaching methods, assessment, classroom management, and how students learn). Content Knowledge (CK) without Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) limits instructors’ ability to teach effectively or inclusively. Novice instructors that rely on traditional lectures likely have limited Pedagogical Knowledge and may also be replicating their own inherited teaching practices. While Kind and Chan (2019) are writing from the perspective of science education, their concepts apply across disciplines. Moreover, Kind and Chan (2019) support van Driel et al.’s assertion that:

high-quality PCK is not characterized by knowing as many strategies as possible to teach a certain topic plus all the misconceptions students may have about it but by knowing when to apply a certain strategy in recognition of students’ actual learning needs and understanding why a certain teaching approach may be useful in one situation (quoted in Kind and Chan 2019, 975). 

As we’ve stressed throughout this guide, the teaching context matters, and for inclusive pedagogy, special attention should be paid to the learning goals, instructor preparation, and students’ point of entry into course content. We also argue that the PWI context shapes what instructors might practice as CK, PK, and PCK. We recommend instructors become familiar with evidence-based pedagogy (or the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning , SoTL) in their fields. Moreover, we advise instructors to find and follow those instructors and scholars that specifically focus on inclusive teaching in their fields in order to develop an inclusive, flexible, and discipline-specific Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

Suggested Practices for Diversifying + Assessing Pedagogy

Although diversifying and critically assessing teaching methods, learning activities, and assignments will vary across disciplines, we offer a few key starting points. Diversifying your pedagogy is easier than critically assessing it through a PWI lens, but both steps are essential. In general, you can diversify your pedagogy by learning about active learning, peer learning, team-based learning, experiential learning, problem-based learning, and case-based learning, among others . There is extensive evidence-based pedagogical literature and practical guides readily available for these methods. And you can also find and follow scholars in your discipline that use these and other teaching methods.

Diversifying Your Pedagogy

Convert traditional lectures into interactive (or active) lectures.

For in-person or synchronous online courses, break a traditional lecture into “mini-lectures” of 10-15 minutes in length. After each mini-lecture, ask your students to process their learning using a discussion or problem prompt, a Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT), a Think-Pair-Share, or another brief learning activity. Read Lecturing from Center for Teaching , Vanderbilt University.

Structure small group discussions

Provide both a process and concrete questions or tasks to guide student learning (for example, provide a scenario with 3 focused tasks such as identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and list the pros/cons for each solution). Read How to Hold a Better Class Discussion , The Chronicle of Higher Education .

Integrate active learning

Integrate active learning, especially into courses that are conceptual, theoretical, or otherwise historically challenging (for example, calculus, organic chemistry, statistics, philosophy). For gateway courses, draw upon the research of STEM and other education specialists on how active learning and peer learning improves student learning and reduces disparities. Read the Association of American Universities STEM Network Scholarship .  

Include authentic learning

Include authentic learning, learning activities and assignments that mirror how students will work after graduation. What does it mean to think and work like an engineer? How do project teams work together? How does one present research in an educational social media campaign? Since most students seeking a college education will not become academic researchers or faculty, what kinds of things will they do in the “real world?” Help students practice and hone those skills as they learn the course content. Read Edutopia’s PBL: What Does It Take for a Project to Be Authentic?

Vary assignments and provide options

Graded assignments should range from low to high stakes. Low stakes assignments allow students to learn from their mistakes and receive timely feedback on their learning. Options for assignments allow students to demonstrate their learning, rather than demonstrate their skill at a particular type of assessment (such as a multiple choice exam or an academic research paper). Read our guide, Create Assessments That Promote Learning for All Students .

Critically Assess Your Pedagogy

Critically assessing your pedagogy through the PWI lens with attention to how your pedagogy may affect the learning of BIPOC students is more challenging and highly contextual. Instructors will want to review and apply the concepts and principles discussed in the earlier sections of this guide on Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), PWI Assumptions, and Class Climate. 

Reflect on patterns

Reflect on patterns of participation, progress in learning (grade distributions), and other course-related evidence. Look at your class sessions and assignments as experimental data. Who participated? What kinds of participation did you observe? Who didn’t participate? Why might that be? Are there a variety of ways for students to participate in the learning activities (individually, in groups, via discussion, via writing, synchronously/in-person, asynchronously/online)?

Respond to feedback on climate

Respond to feedback on climate from on-going check-ins and Critical Incident Questionnaires (CIQs) as discussed in the Climate Section (Ongoing Practices). Students will likely disengage from your requests for feedback if you do not respond to their feedback. Use this feedback to re-calibrate and re-think your pedagogy. 

Seek feedback on student learning

Seek feedback on student learning in the form of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), in-class polls, asynchronous forums, exam wrappers, and other methods.  Demonstrate that you care about your students’ learning by responding to this feedback as well. Here’s how students in previous semesters learned this material … I’m scheduling a problem-solving review session in the next class in response to the results of the exam …

Be diplomatic but clear when correcting mistakes and misconceptions

First-generation college students, many of whom may also identify as BIPOC, have typically achieved a great deal with few resources and significant barriers (Yosso 2005). However, they may be more likely to internalize their learning mistakes as signs that they don’t belong at the university. When correcting, be sure to normalize mistakes as part of the learning process. The correct answer is X, but I can see why you thought it was Y. Many students think it is Y because … But the correct answer is X because … Thank you for helping us understand that misconception.

Allow time for students to think and prepare for participation in a non-stressful setting

This was already suggested in the Climate Section (Race Stressors), but it is worth repeating. BIPOC students and multilingual students may need more time to prepare, not because of their intellectual abilities, but because of the effects of race stressors and other stressors increasing their cognitive load. Providing discussion or problem prompts in advance will reduce this stress and make space for learning. Additionally both student populations may experience stereotype threat, so participation in the “public” aspects of the class session may be stressful in ways that are not true for the majority white and domestic students. If you cannot provide prompts in advance, be sure to allow ample individual “think time” during a synchronous class session.

Avoid consensus models or majority rules processes

This was stated in the Climate Section (Teaching Practices to Avoid), but it’s such an entrenched PWI practice that it needs to be spotlighted and challenged. If I am a numerical “minority” and I am asked to come to consensus or agreement with a numerical “majority,” it is highly likely that my perspective will be minimized or dismissed. Or, I will have to expend a lot of energy to persuade my group of the value of my perspective, which is highly stressful. This is an unacceptable burden to put on BIPOC students and also may result in BIPOC students being placed in the position of teaching white students about a particular perspective or experience. The resulting tensions may also damage BIPOC students’ positive relationships with white students and instructors. When suitable for your content, create a learning experience that promotes seeking multiple solutions to problems, cases, or prompts. Rather than asking students to converge on one best recommendation, why not ask students to log all possible solutions (without evaluation) and then to recommend at least two solutions that include a rationale? Moreover, for course content dealing with policies, the recommended solutions could be explained in terms of their possible effects on different communities. If we value diverse perspectives, we need to structure the consideration of those perspectives into our learning activities and assignments. 

We recognize the challenges of assessing your pedagogy through the PWI lens and doing your best to assess the effects on BIPOC student learning. This is a complex undertaking. But we encourage you to invite feedback from your students as well as to seek the guidance of colleagues, including advisors and other student affairs professionals, to inform your ongoing practices of teaching inclusively at a PWI. In the next section, we complete our exploration of the Inclusive Teaching at a PWI Framework by exploring the importance of auditing, diversifying, and critically assessing course content.

Pedagogy References

Kind, Vanessa and Kennedy K.H. Chan. 2019. “Resolving the Amalgam: Connecting Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Content Knowledge and Pedagogical Knowledge.” International Journal of Science Education . 41(7): 964-978.

Howard, Jay. N.D. “How to Hold a Better Class Discussion: Advice Guide.” The Chronicle of Higher Education . 

National Research Council. 2000. “How Experts Differ from Novices.” Chap 2 in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition . Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Nelson, Craig E. 1996. “Student Diversity Requires Different Approaches to College Teaching, Even in Math and Science.” The American Behavioral Scientist . 40 (2): 165-175.

Sathy, Viji and Kelly A. Hogan. N.D.  “How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: Advice Guide.” The Chronicle of Higher Education .

Yosso, Tara J. 2005. “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.” Race, Ethnicity and Education . 8 (1): 69-91.

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Designing Assignments for Learning

The rapid shift to remote teaching and learning meant that many instructors reimagined their assessment practices. Whether adapting existing assignments or creatively designing new opportunities for their students to learn, instructors focused on helping students make meaning and demonstrate their learning outside of the traditional, face-to-face classroom setting. This resource distills the elements of assignment design that are important to carry forward as we continue to seek better ways of assessing learning and build on our innovative assignment designs.

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Rethinking traditional tests, quizzes, and exams.

  • Examples from the Columbia University Classroom
  • Tips for Designing Assignments for Learning

Reflect On Your Assignment Design

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assignment activities meaning

Traditional assessments tend to reveal whether students can recognize, recall, or replicate what was learned out of context, and tend to focus on students providing correct responses (Wiggins, 1990). In contrast, authentic assignments, which are course assessments, engage students in higher order thinking, as they grapple with real or simulated challenges that help them prepare for their professional lives, and draw on the course knowledge learned and the skills acquired to create justifiable answers, performances or products (Wiggins, 1990). An authentic assessment provides opportunities for students to practice, consult resources, learn from feedback, and refine their performances and products accordingly (Wiggins 1990, 1998, 2014). 

Authentic assignments ask students to “do” the subject with an audience in mind and apply their learning in a new situation. Examples of authentic assignments include asking students to: 

  • Write for a real audience (e.g., a memo, a policy brief, letter to the editor, a grant proposal, reports, building a website) and/or publication;
  • Solve problem sets that have real world application; 
  • Design projects that address a real world problem; 
  • Engage in a community-partnered research project;
  • Create an exhibit, performance, or conference presentation ;
  • Compile and reflect on their work through a portfolio/e-portfolio.

Noteworthy elements of authentic designs are that instructors scaffold the assignment, and play an active role in preparing students for the tasks assigned, while students are intentionally asked to reflect on the process and product of their work thus building their metacognitive skills (Herrington and Oliver, 2000; Ashford-Rowe, Herrington and Brown, 2013; Frey, Schmitt, and Allen, 2012). 

It’s worth noting here that authentic assessments can initially be time consuming to design, implement, and grade. They are critiqued for being challenging to use across course contexts and for grading reliability issues (Maclellan, 2004). Despite these challenges, authentic assessments are recognized as beneficial to student learning (Svinicki, 2004) as they are learner-centered (Weimer, 2013), promote academic integrity (McLaughlin, L. and Ricevuto, 2021; Sotiriadou et al., 2019; Schroeder, 2021) and motivate students to learn (Ambrose et al., 2010). The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning is always available to consult with faculty who are considering authentic assessment designs and to discuss challenges and affordances.   

Examples from the Columbia University Classroom 

Columbia instructors have experimented with alternative ways of assessing student learning from oral exams to technology-enhanced assignments. Below are a few examples of authentic assignments in various teaching contexts across Columbia University. 

  • E-portfolios: Statia Cook shares her experiences with an ePorfolio assignment in her co-taught Frontiers of Science course (a submission to the Voices of Hybrid and Online Teaching and Learning initiative); CUIMC use of ePortfolios ;
  • Case studies: Columbia instructors have engaged their students in authentic ways through case studies drawing on the Case Consortium at Columbia University. Read and watch a faculty spotlight to learn how Professor Mary Ann Price uses the case method to place pre-med students in real-life scenarios;
  • Simulations: students at CUIMC engage in simulations to develop their professional skills in The Mary & Michael Jaharis Simulation Center in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Helene Fuld Health Trust Simulation Center in the Columbia School of Nursing; 
  • Experiential learning: instructors have drawn on New York City as a learning laboratory such as Barnard’s NYC as Lab webpage which highlights courses that engage students in NYC;
  • Design projects that address real world problems: Yevgeniy Yesilevskiy on the Engineering design projects completed using lab kits during remote learning. Watch Dr. Yesilevskiy talk about his teaching and read the Columbia News article . 
  • Writing assignments: Lia Marshall and her teaching associate Aparna Balasundaram reflect on their “non-disposable or renewable assignments” to prepare social work students for their professional lives as they write for a real audience; and Hannah Weaver spoke about a sandbox assignment used in her Core Literature Humanities course at the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning Symposium . Watch Dr. Weaver share her experiences.  

​Tips for Designing Assignments for Learning

While designing an effective authentic assignment may seem like a daunting task, the following tips can be used as a starting point. See the Resources section for frameworks and tools that may be useful in this effort.  

Align the assignment with your course learning objectives 

Identify the kind of thinking that is important in your course, the knowledge students will apply, and the skills they will practice using through the assignment. What kind of thinking will students be asked to do for the assignment? What will students learn by completing this assignment? How will the assignment help students achieve the desired course learning outcomes? For more information on course learning objectives, see the CTL’s Course Design Essentials self-paced course and watch the video on Articulating Learning Objectives .  

Identify an authentic meaning-making task

For meaning-making to occur, students need to understand the relevance of the assignment to the course and beyond (Ambrose et al., 2010). To Bean (2011) a “meaning-making” or “meaning-constructing” task has two dimensions: 1) it presents students with an authentic disciplinary problem or asks students to formulate their own problems, both of which engage them in active critical thinking, and 2) the problem is placed in “a context that gives students a role or purpose, a targeted audience, and a genre.” (Bean, 2011: 97-98). 

An authentic task gives students a realistic challenge to grapple with, a role to take on that allows them to “rehearse for the complex ambiguities” of life, provides resources and supports to draw on, and requires students to justify their work and the process they used to inform their solution (Wiggins, 1990). Note that if students find an assignment interesting or relevant, they will see value in completing it. 

Consider the kind of activities in the real world that use the knowledge and skills that are the focus of your course. How is this knowledge and these skills applied to answer real-world questions to solve real-world problems? (Herrington et al., 2010: 22). What do professionals or academics in your discipline do on a regular basis? What does it mean to think like a biologist, statistician, historian, social scientist? How might your assignment ask students to draw on current events, issues, or problems that relate to the course and are of interest to them? How might your assignment tap into student motivation and engage them in the kinds of thinking they can apply to better understand the world around them? (Ambrose et al., 2010). 

Determine the evaluation criteria and create a rubric

To ensure equitable and consistent grading of assignments across students, make transparent the criteria you will use to evaluate student work. The criteria should focus on the knowledge and skills that are central to the assignment. Build on the criteria identified, create a rubric that makes explicit the expectations of deliverables and share this rubric with your students so they can use it as they work on the assignment. For more information on rubrics, see the CTL’s resource Incorporating Rubrics into Your Grading and Feedback Practices , and explore the Association of American Colleges & Universities VALUE Rubrics (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education). 

Build in metacognition

Ask students to reflect on what and how they learned from the assignment. Help students uncover personal relevance of the assignment, find intrinsic value in their work, and deepen their motivation by asking them to reflect on their process and their assignment deliverable. Sample prompts might include: what did you learn from this assignment? How might you draw on the knowledge and skills you used on this assignment in the future? See Ambrose et al., 2010 for more strategies that support motivation and the CTL’s resource on Metacognition ). 

Provide students with opportunities to practice

Design your assignment to be a learning experience and prepare students for success on the assignment. If students can reasonably expect to be successful on an assignment when they put in the required effort ,with the support and guidance of the instructor, they are more likely to engage in the behaviors necessary for learning (Ambrose et al., 2010). Ensure student success by actively teaching the knowledge and skills of the course (e.g., how to problem solve, how to write for a particular audience), modeling the desired thinking, and creating learning activities that build up to a graded assignment. Provide opportunities for students to practice using the knowledge and skills they will need for the assignment, whether through low-stakes in-class activities or homework activities that include opportunities to receive and incorporate formative feedback. For more information on providing feedback, see the CTL resource Feedback for Learning . 

Communicate about the assignment 

Share the purpose, task, audience, expectations, and criteria for the assignment. Students may have expectations about assessments and how they will be graded that is informed by their prior experiences completing high-stakes assessments, so be transparent. Tell your students why you are asking them to do this assignment, what skills they will be using, how it aligns with the course learning outcomes, and why it is relevant to their learning and their professional lives (i.e., how practitioners / professionals use the knowledge and skills in your course in real world contexts and for what purposes). Finally, verify that students understand what they need to do to complete the assignment. This can be done by asking students to respond to poll questions about different parts of the assignment, a “scavenger hunt” of the assignment instructions–giving students questions to answer about the assignment and having them work in small groups to answer the questions, or by having students share back what they think is expected of them.

Plan to iterate and to keep the focus on learning 

Draw on multiple sources of data to help make decisions about what changes are needed to the assignment, the assignment instructions, and/or rubric to ensure that it contributes to student learning. Explore assignment performance data. As Deandra Little reminds us: “a really good assignment, which is a really good assessment, also teaches you something or tells the instructor something. As much as it tells you what students are learning, it’s also telling you what they aren’t learning.” ( Teaching in Higher Ed podcast episode 337 ). Assignment bottlenecks–where students get stuck or struggle–can be good indicators that students need further support or opportunities to practice prior to completing an assignment. This awareness can inform teaching decisions. 

Triangulate the performance data by collecting student feedback, and noting your own reflections about what worked well and what did not. Revise the assignment instructions, rubric, and teaching practices accordingly. Consider how you might better align your assignment with your course objectives and/or provide more opportunities for students to practice using the knowledge and skills that they will rely on for the assignment. Additionally, keep in mind societal, disciplinary, and technological changes as you tweak your assignments for future use. 

Now is a great time to reflect on your practices and experiences with assignment design and think critically about your approach. Take a closer look at an existing assignment. Questions to consider include: What is this assignment meant to do? What purpose does it serve? Why do you ask students to do this assignment? How are they prepared to complete the assignment? Does the assignment assess the kind of learning that you really want? What would help students learn from this assignment? 

Using the tips in the previous section: How can the assignment be tweaked to be more authentic and meaningful to students? 

As you plan forward for post-pandemic teaching and reflect on your practices and reimagine your course design, you may find the following CTL resources helpful: Reflecting On Your Experiences with Remote Teaching , Transition to In-Person Teaching , and Course Design Support .

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is here to help!

For assistance with assignment design, rubric design, or any other teaching and learning need, please request a consultation by emailing [email protected]

Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework for assignments. The TILT Examples and Resources page ( ) includes example assignments from across disciplines, as well as a transparent assignment template and a checklist for designing transparent assignments . Each emphasizes the importance of articulating to students the purpose of the assignment or activity, the what and how of the task, and specifying the criteria that will be used to assess students. 

Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) offers VALUE ADD (Assignment Design and Diagnostic) tools ( ) to help with the creation of clear and effective assignments that align with the desired learning outcomes and associated VALUE rubrics (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education). VALUE ADD encourages instructors to explicitly state assignment information such as the purpose of the assignment, what skills students will be using, how it aligns with course learning outcomes, the assignment type, the audience and context for the assignment, clear evaluation criteria, desired formatting, and expectations for completion whether individual or in a group.

Villarroel et al. (2017) propose a blueprint for building authentic assessments which includes four steps: 1) consider the workplace context, 2) design the authentic assessment; 3) learn and apply standards for judgement; and 4) give feedback. 


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., & DiPietro, M. (2010). Chapter 3: What Factors Motivate Students to Learn? In How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching . Jossey-Bass. 

Ashford-Rowe, K., Herrington, J., and Brown, C. (2013). Establishing the critical elements that determine authentic assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 39(2), 205-222, .  

Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom . Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. 

Frey, B. B, Schmitt, V. L., and Allen, J. P. (2012). Defining Authentic Classroom Assessment. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. 17(2). DOI:  

Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., and Oliver, R. (2010). A Guide to Authentic e-Learning . Routledge. 

Herrington, J. and Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48. 

Litchfield, B. C. and Dempsey, J. V. (2015). Authentic Assessment of Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. 142 (Summer 2015), 65-80. 

Maclellan, E. (2004). How convincing is alternative assessment for use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 29(3), June 2004. DOI: 10.1080/0260293042000188267

McLaughlin, L. and Ricevuto, J. (2021). Assessments in a Virtual Environment: You Won’t Need that Lockdown Browser! Faculty Focus. June 2, 2021. 

Mueller, J. (2005). The Authentic Assessment Toolbox: Enhancing Student Learning through Online Faculty Development . MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 1(1). July 2005. Mueller’s Authentic Assessment Toolbox is available online. 

Schroeder, R. (2021). Vaccinate Against Cheating With Authentic Assessment . Inside Higher Ed. (February 26, 2021).  

Sotiriadou, P., Logan, D., Daly, A., and Guest, R. (2019). The role of authentic assessment to preserve academic integrity and promote skills development and employability. Studies in Higher Education. 45(111), 2132-2148.    

Stachowiak, B. (Host). (November 25, 2020). Authentic Assignments with Deandra Little. (Episode 337). In Teaching in Higher Ed .  

Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Authentic Assessment: Testing in Reality. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. 100 (Winter 2004): 23-29. 

Villarroel, V., Bloxham, S, Bruna, D., Bruna, C., and Herrera-Seda, C. (2017). Authentic assessment: creating a blueprint for course design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 43(5), 840-854.    

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice . Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Wiggins, G. (2014). Authenticity in assessment, (re-)defined and explained. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (1998). Teaching to the (Authentic) Test. Educational Leadership . April 1989. 41-47. 

Wiggins, Grant (1990). The Case for Authentic Assessment . Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation , 2(2). 

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something assigned, as a particular task or duty: She completed the assignment and went on to other jobs.

a position of responsibility, post of duty, or the like, to which one is appointed: He left for his assignment in the Middle East.

an act of assigning; appointment.

the transference of a right, interest, or title, or the instrument of transfer.

a transference of property to assignees for the benefit of creditors.

Origin of assignment

Synonym study for assignment, other words for assignment, other words from assignment.

  • mis·as·sign·ment, noun
  • non·as·sign·ment, noun
  • re·as·sign·ment, noun

Words that may be confused with assignment

  • assignment , assignation Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use assignment in a sentence

When the assignment for Sunday came in early November, Talib started preparing by watching one of each team’s last three games, every day.

As long she got the assignments done for her subjects by a set time, “you can approach them any way you want,” I told her.

The assignment involved matching simple words to illustrations.

A year later, Cole nearly lost the seat when she yanked committee assignments from Republicans who had voted for her a year earlier.

Teachers will post assignments, quizzes and activities online as they deliver them to in-person learners, meaning all children can work at the same pace.

Though this might easily have been grounds for dismissal or reassignment, nothing of the sort happened.

Last May, Israel lowered the minimum age for gender reassignment surgery from 21 to 18.

Medicare, the program for the elderly and disabled, lifted its ban on covering sex reassignment surgery earlier this year.

How did you identify before the sexual reassignment surgery?

How did your modeling agents react when you told them you were having [Sexual Reassignment Surgery]?

No doubt they'd made their last report to Taber and had headed back to Washington for reassignment.

Reassignment to a distant station is of course a day-to-day possibility in the life of any military officer.

We have journeyed together for two whole terms; there is only one more between you and reassignment.

Further delay, he predicted, would cause confusion in reassignment of some 4,000 troops.

All these teams uncovered a substantial number of men and women considered eligible for further training or reassignment.

British Dictionary definitions for assignment

/ ( əˈsaɪnmənt ) /

something that has been assigned, such as a mission or task

a position or post to which a person is assigned

the act of assigning or state of being assigned

the transfer to another of a right, interest, or title to property, esp personal property : assignment of a lease

the document effecting such a transfer

the right, interest, or property transferred

law (formerly) the transfer, esp by an insolvent debtor, of property in trust for the benefit of his creditors

logic a function that associates specific values with each variable in a formal expression

Australian history a system (1789–1841) whereby a convict could become the unpaid servant of a freeman

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Synonyms of assignment

  • as in lesson
  • as in appointment
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Thesaurus Definition of assignment

Synonyms & Similar Words

  • responsibility
  • undertaking
  • requirement
  • designation
  • appointment
  • authorization
  • installment
  • installation
  • destination
  • emplacement
  • investiture
  • singling (out)

Antonyms & Near Antonyms

  • dethronement

Synonym Chooser

How does the noun assignment contrast with its synonyms?

Some common synonyms of assignment are chore , duty , job , stint , and task . While all these words mean "a piece of work to be done," assignment implies a definite limited task assigned by one in authority.

When is it sensible to use chore instead of assignment ?

While the synonyms chore and assignment are close in meaning, chore implies a minor routine activity necessary for maintaining a household or farm.

When is duty a more appropriate choice than assignment ?

Although the words duty and assignment have much in common, duty implies an obligation to perform or responsibility for performance.

When might job be a better fit than assignment ?

The synonyms job and assignment are sometimes interchangeable, but job applies to a piece of work voluntarily performed; it may sometimes suggest difficulty or importance.

When could stint be used to replace assignment ?

In some situations, the words stint and assignment are roughly equivalent. However, stint implies a carefully allotted or measured quantity of assigned work or service.

When can task be used instead of assignment ?

The meanings of task and assignment largely overlap; however, task implies work imposed by a person in authority or an employer or by circumstance.

Thesaurus Entries Near assignment


Cite this Entry

“Assignment.” Thesaurus , Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Nov. 2023.

More from Merriam-Webster on assignment

Nglish: Translation of assignment for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of assignment for Arabic Speakers

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Department of English

First-Year Writing

Classroom activities.

FYW courses put a primary emphasis on the circulation and development of ongoing academic projects rather than coverage of a specific content or explicit instruction in discrete skills. A FYW course functions as an academic seminar and, in this way, is built on the contributions of its members.

Because student projects provide the central focus of the course, then, working with student writing should be a part of most class sessions .

Ways to Feature Student Work

  • Circulate drafts in process or portions of drafts in any number of ways (volunteers, random selection, copying a page (or even various sentences) from several drafts, asking students to choose a favorite paragraph or a place where they work with more than one text, etc.).
  • Ask students to characterize, frame, or situate each other’s work (perhaps in a genre such as headnote, introduction, afterword, blog post, or even review).
  • Build things together in a shared online space (e.g., a Course Bibliography in a Google Doc; an annotation or glossary of key terms in a Google Doc; a HuskyCT blog or discussion thread exploring potential extensions of the texts).
  • Have students post drafts as discussion threads, allowing all students access and assigning a peer review process (with guidelines) for all group members.
  • Build some peer reviewing in class and some out of class (through email or course management software).
  • Help students build “affinity networks” or writing groups around similar projects.
  • Feature a particular project from one student or from a collection you’ve made to help work through a problem or issue.
  • Share reflective writing and process notes.
  • Assign cover letters, informal (mid-process) presentations, formal presentations, or re-mediation projects (putting the larger project into a new genre or context).

Examples of Class Activities

Below is a list of in-class activities that instructors use in classes. These activities are not meant to be picked to “fill time.” They should be chosen to facilitate writing and group work and to meet that day’s specific learning outcomes. These are not the only activities you could or should do in class, but they should help instructors conceptualize the work of a single class period.

When students do individual or group work in class, be sure to have time afterward for the whole class to come together to reflect on and/or discuss the work that has been done. To avoid having students simply list what they discussed or found, it may be useful to structure that time as informal presentations, or to have groups upload their findings/ work to a common HuskyCT or Google Drive area. Some instructors also have groups write what they’ve done on the board or large-sized paper if a classroom is not tech-enabled.

The following examples are organized by generalized types of activities.

Working with Difficult Texts

Unpacking Difficult Passages

Prepare a handout with difficult passages from the text, or have students identify difficult passages in the reading. Assign students to different groups based on a particular passage.  In groups, have students trace how a term or concept is used in a particular passage and in the text as a whole. They should pull specific quotes that help them back up their understanding. Groups should use the textual evidence as a means to begin “translating” the passages. Afterward, they should go back to the text and reflect on why the author(s) used a specific term or concept in the text.

Visually Mapping a Text

A variation of this activity is to have students map the key terms visually. Together in groups, students should map and link key terms used by the author. Maps might not (and perhaps should not) be linear—students are encouraged to see the many ways the terms seem to interact in the text. Afterward, groups can compare maps to add lines or connections that they may not have noticed previously.

Exploring the Uses of a Text

Current, Past, or Future Contexts

Depending on your course inquiry and assignments, you may want students to consider how class readings can apply to and work in relation to different contexts, especially in the beginning stages of a larger assignment. Your specific learning goals will help determine which context will make most sense for your class to explore.

Current Context: Choose a current issue or have students work together to find a current issue that relates to your course inquiry and the text. Choose yourself or have students select key terms or concepts from the reading to help them examine or analyze the issue. Students will need to conduct research on the issue in groups. Then, on their own, in writing, students should draw connections between the text and issue.

Past Context: Ask students to bring a laptop or tablet to class, or divide them into groups (at least one student in each group should have a laptop). Using their devices, students should explore the sociohistorical context of the reading in order to consider how it might have affected the text’s rhetoric (or vice versa).

Future Contexts: Have students consider how the text might be useful for future conflicts, issues, or developments in society or academia. The future context may be best paired with either the current or past contexts to demonstrate the development of ideas or movements over time. Students should explore self- or group-generated questions through individual writing, then discuss or otherwise share their ideas.

What’s Missing?

In small groups, students brainstorm for situations or concepts that the reading doesn’t seem to account for and why or how that situation or concept might be important to include or discuss in the conversation. The class makes a list of these various missing pieces, and then students individually reflect on how these choices reflect the priorities and rhetorical strategies of the author. What do their choices reveal about their aims?

What Is This Text? Who Is This Author?

Any assigned text can be accompanied with a small research component designed to help students place the text in a larger context. If you assign a text by Judith Butler, for exam- ple, students could be assigned roles to establish this context. One set of students could research Butler the person; another set could say more about what her influential writings are (and what they seek to do); a third set of students could trace the reception and influence of these texts. Based on this research, have students reflect in writing on the significance of these contexts and what these findings demonstrate about academic writing and this specific conversation. Next, use the contexts explored as a jumping-off point for students to begin exploring their next assignment.

Information Literacy and Handling Sources

Citation Trail

One way to begin the conversation about Information Literacy (InfoLit) and how to use sources effectively is to ask students to explore how other writers use sources. Working with the texts used in class, invite students to choose, in groups, one of the works that the author has cited. Have students locate that source, read it (in its entirety if it’s short or just the relevant section if it’s long).

After reading the source, ask students to freewrite on the source’s main idea, what kind of source it is, and why the author used it. Then, in groups, have students discuss how the author of the class text used the source and how the source is contributing to the class text’s author’s main claims.

After facilitating a brief class discussion of the groups’ findings, have students reflect, individually in writing, on the different ways a writer can use sources and how such choices can inform their own writing.

InfoLit Through Terms, Search Engines, and Databases

As a class, have students brainstorm a research question that engages with the next essay prompt. Afterward, have students brainstorm the kind of sources that may be useful for exploring said question, the fields that may already discussing or provide insight on the topic (like specific news sources or subject specific databases). Then, for each kind of source or each discipline, have students brainstorm key terms and discuss why certain terms are more useful than others in certain searches. After the list has been made, have students determine where to look for this information. From this point, you can decide whether to proceed with the search as a class or to have students to break into groups to explore different terms, search engines, and databases.

You may want to engage your students in a conversation about research questions before this activity or in a prior class period. Students will likely not be sure how to craft meaningful research questions. Be sure that you build in moments for students to reflect in writing on what the activity means for their own research processes.

Documenting the Research Process

As a take-home assignment, have students take screenshots of their research process for a larger project (including pictures of the key terms they use, the search results, the articles they select, etc.) or record their research process. Students can either save the images on their computer or print them (whichever is more convenient). If they took a video, ask them to bring in their computer with the video. In class, have students map out the process—from where they began to where they ended. It may be best to do this on large sheets of paper, index cards, or construction paper. As they map out the process, have students make connections through a freewrite between the choices they made (e.g., how one term led to a new term, how they followed several hyperlinks and where that led them). Once they have finished their map/web and their freewrite, have students pair up and talk through their process and connections. In pairs, students should help each other identify gaps in their research and brainstorm new terms, websites, databases, etc., to explore. At the end, have students write out a research plan for the next portion of their assignment.

Annotated Bibliography

Have students bring an annotated bibliography and the original sources to class. It’s important to stress that this research often includes a lot of excess—simply choosing the first hit is often not the right match for a research project. Have students write about the choices they made in selecting their sources and reflect on how these sources contribute to their developing projects.

An alternative or add-on to this activity is to make students’ in-class work multimodal. With their annotated bibliographies, have students use either Prezi or construction paper and string to create a web that represents connections between sources. Students can address these questions: How do the sources talk to each other? How do they agree or disagree or qualify each other’s discussions? After students create their webs, have them reflect on the gaps that seem to exist in their web or identify the outlying sources that no longer work in their developing projects.

Depending on your course, you may want to make the annotated bibliography a collaborative project, where students contribute the sources they have found to a class archive that other students are encouraged to draw on in their writing projects. Google Docs (or a similar technology) can enable your class to create a “living” bibliography that each student can alter, add to, and improve throughout the semester.

Using Sources

Working with Other Voices

Have students highlight all the material borrowed or quoted from another source (including their own previous projects) in their essays in one color, and in a different color highlight all the places where they respond to or analyze those passages. Then ask them to evaluate their use of other voices—or trade papers and discuss with a partner. Are the  passages adequately unpacked, explained, and analyzed? Is the reader left hanging? Are there more quotations than the students’ own words? How does the student build on and revise or drop things they wrote about in the previous assignment?

This activity could work well alongside a discussion of the difference between summary and analysis.

Outside View

Have students pass their essays around in groups. Each student should choose at least one quotation in their peer’s paper and answer the following questions: Do you know where the quote is from? Does the writer describe how or why the quote is useful for considering something interesting or troubling about their project? Is the quote integrated into the discussion of the paragraph? Afterward, students can return their papers to the original writer, and students can spend five to ten minutes revising their use of that quote.

Exploring Structure

Reverse Outline

Have students create a reverse outline of a reading, thinking about questions like: Where is the agenda, the method, and the evidence? Is the argument linear? Does the reading present a compelling argument or an interesting idea? Students can do this work individually, in groups, or together as a class. They can also identify what work each paragraph of a challenging section is doing in the author’s argument (beyond what each paragraph is saying). For instance, is a paragraph introducing a key term or idea? Illustrating a key point of evidence?

Be sure to give students time to reflect on what they have discovered through the reverse outline and how it can apply to their own writing. You may want to give them an in-class writing activity that asks them to take their own draft and model it after the essay and reflect on how the new structure influences the content and purpose of their draft.

Mapping the Text

Using the whiteboard, blank paper, or colored construction paper, have students, in groups, create a visual map of the text that they read for class. Encourage them to make design choices that reflect the author’s purpose in the text. Students can then discuss the choices the writer made in response to a specific audience or conversation.

Introduction Workshop

Project (or copy and distribute) a student’s introduction to the class and have students write what in the introduction is helpful for them as readers and what they might still need information on (for instance, if the required texts for the assignment haven’t been introduced). Have them restate the author’s project in their own words. Afterward, students s hould gather in groups to discuss various strategies for addressing potential issues that may have arisen, and then the whole class can discuss approaches to revision.

Also, before looking at student writing, you might have students consider introductions from the assigned readings, especially if you’re asking students to write in a similar genre. Discussing the readings can then serve as a jumping-off point for looking at student work.

Collaborative Revision

Revision can be one of the toughest aspects of writing for students to fully grasp and take advantage of. Extensively working with revising in class to demonstrate what effective revision can look like helps students to understand that revision is more than simply correcting grammar and word choice. At any stage in the drafting process, working on revision with the entire class can help students conceptualize how revising can be done effectively. Depending on your class and its needs, you may either want to pre-select students whose essays best exemplify an issue the majority of the class is grappling with or have students volunteer their work themselves. If you pre-select students, you’re most likely going to gear your discussion toward a particular issue that the sample drafts exemplify. Self-volunteered drafts may engage several different issues. As students look at the samples, have them think about how the project might be supported with texts from the class, how it contributes new knowledge, and how the writer might move forward in the essay. It may be helpful to have the student identify a specific location where they’re having trouble. As you go about your discussion, you will be modeling ways of responding to texts in peer review. Be sure to make that explicit to the students.

Topic-Specific Workshop

After reading a round of student drafts, you may find that there are common challenges that students are working through. These common issues can be the basis of in-class workshops to help students navigate these particular challenges. Below are two examples, but there are many other writing challenges to work with in class.

Transitions: Some students may be listing their major points in the body of the paper rather than developing a project; consequently, you might call on a student volunteer, or project two anonymous paragraphs from a student paper, to examine how one paragraph moves to the next. Ask students how the two paragraphs might be related and, in groups, have them rewrite the ends and beginnings of the two paragraphs so as to make explicit how the ideas in the paragraphs build on and relate to one another. Have each group present their revisions and discuss their strategies.

In-Text Citations/Using Sources: Using sources effectively in a text is a challenge for many students. Students must not only cite information correctly, but also integrate the quote into their own language and consider how the quote is working with their argument. You may first want to examine an assigned text and, as a whole class or in smaller groups, analyze the author’s use of quotations and other outside sources. Try to push students to  decipher the different ways that sources can be used to support a point (using a text like Joseph Harris’s or FYW’s webpage Why Quote? can give students a vocabulary or starting point for discussion). From here, get a volunteer from class (or choose a student ahead of time) and project or distribute a paragraph from their essay. As a class, discuss how the writer could revise their quotations and citations. Then, have students turn to their own texts and work on the way that they use sources in their projects.

Paired Read-Alouds

Pair students and have them read each other’s paper aloud. Paired read-alouds can be used at different points in the drafting process for different purposes. With a rough draft, you can ask: Does the new set of eyes see more places to push the project further? Are there places where the evidence is unclear? Where might more textual support be needed? At a more polished stage, read-alouds can highlight fluency, sentence structure, and grammatical errors.

Useful for working through difficult readings, reverse outlines are also beneficial to students during drafting. Have students reverse outline their own papers, identifying the individual aims and rhetorical moves of each paragraph, and then have them reflect on what they have noticed. Or have students swap papers and reverse outline their peers’ papers, and then return the papers to their original authors. The students could also reflect on what they notice from their peers’ rendering of their projects. In any case, at the end of the activity, give students time to write about and reflect on what the reverse outline has revealed to them about their work and how they’ll use it to move forward with their draft.

For a more multimodal approach, students can create their reverse outlines using Prezi, construction paper, or the like.

Creating Revision Plans from Feedback

Students don’t always know what to do with comments after they receive your feedback or feedback from peers, so it might be useful to build in time for them to prioritize and plan. Have students look at a sample paper with comments first; then engage them in a discussion of how to prioritize and use feedback. Afterward, give them the opportunity to reflect on their own feedback and write a revision plan.

If you’re doing a portfolio in your course or wish for students to document their writing process, you may want to collect and respond to their revision plans or stress that they keep track of these documents.

Writing About Their Own Writing

At any stage in the writing process, ask your students to reflect on the writing that they have done so far, using the following prompts for in-class, informal, ungraded writing: What personal investment do you have in this issue? Why does your argument matter? What counter-interpretations might work against your emerging claims? What are you struggling with most as you approach the draft? How does how you are writing aid (or complicate) your answers to these first questions? If you choose to, you can discuss these writings as a class or in small groups.

Representing the Writing Process

Have students use markers, pencils, Play-Doh, pipe cleaners—check out the art cart in the FYW office—to draw, make, or sculpt a representation of a certain part of the writing process (perhaps right after students have completed an assignment). Afterward, give them a few minutes to write about their representation. In small groups, students can share their various processes. Doing so allows students to unpack what approaches and strategies worked—it also gives them a chance to see how others approached a similar task.

Creative Synthesis

Near the end of the semester, have students read over their major essays and extract one or two “keywords” or important themes from each. (For instance, if a student wrote an essay about capitalist values in Maus, one keyword from that essay might be “capitalism,” or “homo economicus.”) In a new document, have students write their lists of keywords at the top of the page. They should then write a brief story in class that in some way touches on each of these themes.

It’s not necessary to use the word itself—so, if one keyword is “masculinity,” the student doesn’t actually have to say “masculinity” somewhere in the story, so long as the idea is present. For example, if a student’s keywords were “capitalism,” “dystopia,” and “masculinity,” the student might write a story about a young man in a dystopian society who, in order to prove his masculinity and support his paralyzed father, has to engage in gladiatorial combat. Maybe this gladiatorial combat is televised, with pauses in the fighting for advertisements for men’s deodorant, etc.

“One-Minute Papers”

At the end of a class session, you can ask your students to write short responses to questions like: What is the one big idea or new insight you’ve taken from today’s class? What is still confusing for you? This will help students practice metacognition by allowing them to consider what in their thinking has changed and what remains a challenge for them moving forward.

Writing Across Technology

Key Terms and Infographics

Students can mine a text for key terms and concepts in groups. After discussing the terms and concepts in a larger group, the small groups can then use Piktochart or Canva to create an infographic to help explain how a specific term is being used in a text. This exercise can be framed with the following question: Assuming that your audience is future students in this class, how can you visually explain how the author is using [a particular key term]?

Critical and Creative Captioning

Practice using captioning software for videos, such as with YouTube or Amara. Students can consider how captioning functions rhetorically and depends on concepts of audience, context, and purpose. This activity can be used as students work on their own videos (such as a Concept in 60 video), or students can work in groups to caption sections of a short video in class. (Movie trailers often work pretty well here.)

Cover Design

Ask students to use the design concepts from The Academic Writer to analyze the design of a visual text—a book cover works well. After evaluating the effectiveness of the design choices in the text, let students work in groups to propose alternative covers. This can be done on computers (using software like Word, PowerPoint, GIMP, or Illustrator) or with paper and markers. Students can then present their designs (explaining why these designs are effective) and vote on the elements they’d like to include in a reprint of the text.

Electronic Discussion

If all students have access to bring-your-own personal technology (laptops, smartphones, or other mobile devices with internet access), discussions can become hybrid spaces with the use of platforms like Twitter, Padlet, and Socrative. Allowing students to participate in discussions through technology can help second-language writers, students who are shy, and students with disabilities—and can, in fact, help all students contribute in more thoughtful ways, because writing an answer allows for more time to think. The platform being used can be projected, giving everyone easy access to responses. The instructor can choose to read these responses aloud to focus and direct the discussion or ask students to take a couple of moments to quietly compose responses to spark new avenues of inquiry.

Screencasting the Writing Process

Have students use a program like Kaltura or PowerPoint to screencast their writing as they work through a draft at home. Once they have turned in the essay, have students bring the video to class to watch individually. As they watch their videos, have them describe what’s happening and take notes on what they’re noticing about how they write. Afterward, have them discuss in groups what they noticed. After the discussion, have students review their notes and reflect on what went well and what could be worked on as they proceed in their next assignment.

Recorded Elevator Pitches

Sometimes students work through ideas best when they talk about them aloud. When they’re early in the writing or research process, have them pitch their developing ideas to each other in a minute or less and use their smartphones to record their pitch. At the end of the pitch, peers should provide feedback. As students move on to the next partner, they should incorporate the previous partner’s feedback (or make revisions based on their own observations). At the end, have students listen to their pitches and reflect on what changed from one pitch to the next.

  • Grades 6-12
  • School Leaders

Make Math Class EPIC With This Giveaway!

30 Meaningful Vocabulary Activities for Every Grade

These activities are the definition of fun!

assignment activities meaning

Learning new words is like adding to your writing toolbox. Your writing becomes so much more interesting and engaging when you have more tools available. Check out these fun and engaging vocabulary activities for kids in grades K-12, and give your students the equipment they need to build their wordsmith skills.

1. Write vocabulary short stories

a clipboard with a vocabulary short story written on it

Using vocabulary words in writing shows mastery. Challenge your students to use all of their vocabulary words in an original short story. Allow students to pair up and share their stories with a partner.

Learn more: Lucky Little Learners 

2. Put your students in the “hot seat”

Divide your class into two teams. Choose one student from one team to go to the front of the room and sit in a chair facing the class with his/her back to the board. This person is “on the spot.” Place a word on the board so everyone can see it except the person in the chair. One at a time, team members give the person a clue about the mystery word. If the word is guessed before two minutes are up, the team gets a point and play turns to the other team.

Learn more: On the Spot/Upper Elementary Snapshots

3. Match up words and definitions

a vocabulary activity set featuring vocabulary words and definitions

Download these vocabulary words and matching definitions. Distribute one card to each student (either a word or a definition). Allow students to circulate in the room and find their “match.” Switch cards and repeat.

Learn more: Teach Starter

4. Sketch up some word maps

a word map made up around the word cowboys

Creating word maps from vocabulary words encourages students to find the relationships between the vocabulary word and other words. Have them include words, pictures, examples, real-world connections, definitions, descriptive words, etc.

Learn more: Southern Fried Teachin’

5. Create Post-it stations

a small clipboard with a purple post-it note attached on top of a floral backdrop

Post vocabulary words around the room, then have students circulate and write an original sentence using that word on a sticky note. Follow along and make sure students use the words correctly.

Learn more: Now Spark Creativity

6. Play a game of Pop!

a hand pulling a car with an illustration of popcorn and the word pop! out of a red and white striped bag

Write vocabulary words on cards or craft sticks and place in a paper bag. Write the word Pop! on three to five cards or sticks and add them to the bag as well. To play, students will take turns drawing cards or sticks out of the bag, reading the word and giving the definition. If they correctly define the word, they keep the card or stick. If not, it goes back in the bag. If they pull the word Pop! they must return all their cards or sticks to the bag and start over. The player with the most cards or sticks wins.

Learn more: Pop/Not So Wimpy Teacher

7. Take a gallery walk

Hang six to eight large sheets of chart paper in various places around the room. On each sheet, write one vocabulary word. Have students work in small groups, rotating between stations. At each station, ask students to come up with a different, original way to use each word. Continue the activity until all students have visited every station.

Learn more:

8. Create vocabulary strips

an index card vocabulary activity

Have students draw a diagonal line across an index card. On the top half, have them write the vocabulary word and definition. On the bottom half, have them draw a picture of the word and use it in a sentence. Cards can be joined together in a strip for easy review.

Learn more: Teaching Fourth

9. Play a round of Pictionary

a Pictionary vocabulary worksheet

This fun activity requires students to draw a picture for each word to create their own visual dictionary. When students create their own visual representations, they develop an association with the word that they will be able to tap into when needed.

Learn more: Pictionary/Lit in Focus

10. Make a word map

Word map for the word Respect (Vocabulary Activities)

Word maps help deepen understanding of a vocab word by relating it to other words and concepts students already know.

Learn more: Word Map/Upper Elementary Snapshots

11. Use the Frayer model

Frayer Model for the word Noun

Frayer models are a popular way to learn new words and concepts. Kids define the word in their own terms, then list facts and characteristics, examples, and non-examples.

12. Draw vocabulary Sketchnotes

Vocabulary sketchnotes for words like prohibit and reproach (Vocabulary Activities)

Kids and teachers love Sketchnotes ! Rather than writing out definitions, have students draw a sketch that sums up each word instead. It’s a lot more fun and gives kids an image for visual association and to help remember the meanings.

13. Bump words along

Printable vocabulary worksheet for Bumper Words game (Vocabulary Activities)

Group vocab words together with a few other words with similar meanings and one that’s an antonym. Students identify the antonym and “bump” it to the next box, filling in the next group of words. They continue until the worksheet is full.

Learn more: Reading and Writing Haven

14. Post a graffiti wall

Graffiti wall for the vocabulary word

Think of a vocabulary graffiti wall like a collaborative word wall. In the classroom, post the words on the wall and have kids add sticky notes to illustrate the term (they can use words or pictures). Online, try a tool like Padlet or Google Slides.

Learn more: Digging Deeper

15. Match words to describe character

Character Match printable worksheet showing a drawing of a person with matching vocabulary words

This is a terrific way to practice vocab words pulled from books you’re reading. Ask students to use various words to describe the different characters in the book and their feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Learn more: The Sassy Apple

16. Fill in words from A to Z

Printable A to Z vocabulary word game worksheet

This vocabulary game is fun and challenging, and you can play it at any age. Choose a word, then challenge kids to come up with related words for as many letters as possible. These could be synonyms, antonyms, examples, and more. Trickier letters are worth more points!

Learn more: A to Z/Lit in Focus

17. Try Flip for vocabulary activities

Flipgrid assignment page titled "Know Your Vocabulary'

Forever a Teacher at Heart/Twitter

Are you on the Flip (formerly Flipgrid) bandwagon yet? It’s perfect for vocabulary activities! Have kids record a quick video for each word, using their creativity to make it fun and meaningful.

18. Battle it out in Vocabulary Jeopardy

Vocabulary Jeopardy game with categories like synonym and antonym

Good vocabulary activities encourage more than just memorization of definitions. That’s why we like this Jeopardy game idea. It explores synonyms and antonyms and how words are used in real sentences.

Learn more: Not So Wimpy Teacher

19. Use RAFTs to write vocabulary stories

Vocabulary RAFT printable worksheets

Writing a story using vocab words is a perennial favorite, but the RAFT method gives it a new twist. Students are assigned a Role (the point of view from which they’ll tell the story), an Audience, a Format, and a Topic. For instance, they might be an astronaut (Role) writing a postcard (Format) to their friends back home (Audience) about what they’ve seen on Mars (Topic). RAFTs are especially great for kids who claim they don’t know what to write about.

Learn more: RAFT/

20. Discover the power of words

Write With Power printable vocabulary worksheet

Vocabulary words take on greater meaning when students incorporate them into their daily lives. Challenge kids to use their vocab words in conversation and writing outside the language arts classroom. Use the free printable worksheet here to help them keep track of how often they use them.

21. Create graphic organizers

Colorful graphic organizer for vocabulary words

Colorful organizers like these are terrific vocabulary activities. Want to go digital? Have kids make a slideshow, one slide per word. They can include the same information, but instead of drawing a picture, have them find one online that illustrates the concept.

Learn more: Graphic Organizers/Upper Elementary Snapshots

22. Focus on a Word of the Week

Printable Word of the Week vocabulary worksheet

Give really important terms the attention they deserve. Choose a new vocab word each week, then explore it in depth day by day.

Learn more: Lit in Focus

23. Join the Million Dollar Word Club

Million Dollar Words: Display 6-8 content related words. When a student uses one of the words in academic conversation or writing correctly, the class says

Post a list of target vocab words. If a student uses one of the words in class (outside of vocabulary activities), they become a member of the Million Dollar Word Club! You can have them sign their name on a wall in the classroom or award a badge online. You could even develop this into a reward system for homework passes or extra credit.

Learn more: Million Dollar Words/The Sassy Apple

24. Explore shades of meaning

Paint strips turned into acorns with vocabulary words and synonyms on them (Vocabulary Activities)

This is a cool idea for exploring synonyms and the slight differences that make words unique. Ask for paint sample strips at your local hardware store, or buy a clip art set . In the classroom, use these paint strips to make crafts for a bulletin board. Working in a virtual environment? Have kids print clip art strips at home or use the images to make slides or digital worksheets.

Learn more: Around the Kampfire

25. Personify a word with social media

Hand-drawn Facebook page for the vocabulary word Affluent

This is one of those vocabulary activities kids will want to do over and over again! Assign each student a word and have them create a fake Facebook, Instagram, or other social media page for it. They can draw them freehand or complete a template like these from Teachers Pay Teachers . Post the images to a shared Google slideshow so other students can use them for review.

26. Play vocabulary word Taboo

Vocabulary cards with synonyms on a pink-striped background

In this game, the goal is for one student to get their partner to guess the word by describing or giving examples of it. The trick? There’s a list of additional words they’re not allowed to use! Let other students see the card in advance to help keep the players honest. (Flash it on a whiteboard and have the guesser face away.)

Learn more: Teaching Talking

27. Roll a die for vocabulary activities

Roll a Word printable worksheet for vocabulary practice

Choose a vocab word, then have the student roll a die ( these virtual dice are handy ) to see which activity they get to complete.

Learn more: Roll a Word/Lucky Little Learners

28. Write an acrostic

assignment activities meaning

Write an acrostic poem for each vocab term, using the letters to determine the first word in each line. This can get really challenging when words are longer!

Learn more: Vocab Acrostic/Upper Elementary Snapshots

29. Play vocabulary board games

a vocabulary board game called word on the street

Everyone knows that playing games is the best way to learn! Try some of these fabulous board games with your students and watch their vocabularies grow!

Learn more: 11 Vocab Games to Make the Learning Stick

30. Become a Word Collector

Word Collector children's book

This is one of those picture books that grown-up kids will enjoy as much as little ones. Use it to remind your kids that they don’t need a vocabulary list to learn new words—new words are all around them. Encourage them to keep a word list or journal of their own to record new words they want to explore and use more often.

Buy it: The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds on Amazon

Reading poetry helps students expand their vocabularies. Check out these must-share poems for elementary school and middle and high school .

Plus, get all the latest teaching tips and ideas when you sign up for our free newsletters .

Help kids make a deeper connection to new words with these vocabulary activities. They work for any word list, elementary to high school.

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Cambridge Dictionary

  • Cambridge Dictionary +Plus

Meaning of activity in English

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activity noun ( MOVEMENT )

  • activity There were several police vans and a lot of activity in the area.
  • hubbub I couldn't find her with all the hubbub going on.
  • bustle I miss the bustle of the big city.
  • hustle and bustle She got used to the hustle and bustle of daily life.
  • flurry of activity What was the reason behind this sudden flurry of activity?
  • burst of activity It's usually quiet in the shop, but occasionally we have a sudden burst of activity.
  • The house , usually bustling with activity, was strangely silent .
  • There is increased volcanic activity in the region .
  • Have you seen the feverish activity in the kitchen ?
  • The house was a hive of activity on the day before the wedding .
  • After a sudden burst of activity, the team seemed to run out of energy again.
  • (your) every move idiom
  • act for someone
  • act/do something on your own responsibility idiom
  • put your money where your mouth is idiom
  • responsibility

activity noun ( WORK )

  • action You should take responsibility for your own actions.
  • act This was considered to be an act of war.
  • thing That’s the last thing you should be doing if you’re pregnant.
  • activity Not all of her business activities were scrupulously clean.
  • move Applying for that job was a good move.
  • deed Their evil deeds must not go unpunished.
  • After weeks of frenetic activity, the job was finally finished .
  • Textbook writing can be an intellectually and financially rewarding activity.
  • There was a sudden spurt of activity in the housing market .
  • There has been a lot of criminal activity in the town lately .
  • He was imprisoned for his terrorist activities.
  • act as something
  • all work and no play (makes Jack a dull boy) idiom
  • be at work idiom
  • hot-desking
  • housekeeping
  • in the line of duty idiom

activity noun ( ENJOYMENT )

  • These activities should be available to all pupils , not just a select few.
  • She does a variety of fitness activities.
  • Hostile feelings and violent responses often seem to be sublimated into sporting activities.
  • indoor activities
  • leisure activities
  • avocational
  • avocationally
  • nonprofessional
  • nonprofessionally
  • recreational
  • recreationist

activity | American Dictionary

Activity | business english, examples of activity, collocations with activity.

These are words often used in combination with activity .

Click on a collocation to see more examples of it.

Translations of activity

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Word of the Day

a structure like a net of sticky silk threads made by a spider for catching insects

Have you come far? Chatting to someone you don’t know (2)

Have you come far? Chatting to someone you don’t know (2)

assignment activities meaning

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  • activity (MOVEMENT)
  • activity (WORK)
  • activity (ENJOYMENT)
  • American    Noun
  • Business    Noun
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  2. Assignment Definition & Meaning

    1 : the act of assigning something the assignment of a task 2 a : a position, post, or office to which one is assigned Her assignment was to the embassy in India. b : a specified task or amount of work assigned or undertaken as if assigned by authority a homework assignment 3 law : the transfer of property

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    Scaffold smaller activities and assignments towards large assignments so that students understand the trajectory of their work. This helps students build on their growing knowledge, but also helps them move forward: it's easier for them to continue a learning process than to start a new one. It also combats procrastination and plagiarism, and ...


    a piece of work given to someone, typically as part of their studies or job: a freelance / photo assignment I have a lot of reading assignments to complete before the end of the term. [ C ] a job that someone is sent somewhere to do: a foreign / diplomatic assignment on assignment


    the process of giving a particular job or piece of work to someone, or of sending someone to a chosen place to do a job: assignment of the various tasks Fewer examples It was a jammy assignment - more of a holiday really. He took this award-winning photograph while on assignment in the Middle East.

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    1 : a job or duty that is given to someone : a task someone is required to do [count] My assignment was to clean the equipment. = They gave me the assignment of cleaning the equipment. The students were given a homework assignment. The reporter's assignment is to interview the candidate. The reporter is here on an assignment. [noncount]

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    noun the act of distributing something to designated places or persons "the first task is the assignment of an address to each datum" synonyms: assigning see more noun (law) a transfer of property by deed of conveyance synonyms: grant see more noun

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  13. ASSIGNMENT Definition & Usage Examples

    noun something assigned, as a particular task or duty: She completed the assignment and went on to other jobs. a position of responsibility, post of duty, or the like, to which one is appointed: He left for his assignment in the Middle East. an act of assigning; appointment. Law.

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  16. ASSIGNMENT Synonyms: 97 Similar and Opposite Words

    noun Definition of assignment 1 as in task a piece of work that needs to be done regularly his first newspaper assignment was writing obituaries Synonyms & Similar Words Relevance task job duty project mission chore responsibility function post office operation endeavor undertaking errand stint enterprise commission care route char chare circuit


    noun us / ækˈtɪv.ə.t̬i / uk / ækˈtɪv.ə.ti / activity noun (MOVEMENT) Add to word list B2 [ U ] the situation in which a lot of things are happening or people are moving around: economic activity Economists are concerned by the low level of economic activity. business activity Experts predict that this could depress business activity for years.

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    Have students use markers, pencils, Play-Doh, pipe cleaners—check out the art cart in the FYW office—to draw, make, or sculpt a representation of a certain part of the writing process (perhaps right after students have completed an assignment). Afterward, give them a few minutes to write about their representation.

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    activity definition: 1. the situation in which a lot of things are happening or people are moving around: 2. the work…. Learn more.