Teaching Handbook

Planning Assignments

Planning your assignment | General tips | Fighting plagiarism
Additional Resources

Planning Your Assignment

  • Keep course objectives in mind when planning an assignment. Regardless if you have your students do something traditional or more creative, always make sure that ultimately assignment ties in with at least one of the course objectives. This is an easy way to make sure that students are taking away from your course what you expected them to.1
  • Keep the assessment type in-line with the intended learning objective. Keeping in mind Bloom's Taxonomy, make sure that you choose an appropriate type of assignment for the specific learning objective. For example, if you want students to apply a skill, something like a problem set would work significantly better than having them fill out a matching worksheet.
  • Make an assignment interesting to do. Instead of having a student write an essay about the 1912 presidential election, you can have them do something more unique like writing a stump speech for one of the candidates. By doing so, it allows students to get more engaged in the assignment, gives a creative outlet, and makes the paper more interesting to grade.
  • Plan sequencing into your assignments. Activities like peer review, annotated bibliographies, and source evaluations all build up to a larger assignment and require students to think more about their topic, which will help to create better papers overall.4
  • Keep in mind the calendar when planning an assignment. Time ultimately becomes of the most pressing constraints when creating an assignment. Make sure that your assignments are spaced far enough apart that students can complete one before going onto the next. As well, make sure to take into account holidays and other class cancellations when giving assignments. Finally, keep in mind the amount of time you'll need to grade any given assignment. While you may want students to turn in a large-scale cumulative project on the last day of class, be sure to take into account how long grading takes and when final grades are due.
  • For any given assignment, specify the intended audience. Depending on who a student is writing for, an assignment can be drastically different. If writing for an expert in the field, they may leave out definitions of key ideas and concepts. Likewise, if they think they're writing for high school freshman, they may oversimplify and explain simple concepts. Always make sure that students know who they're writing for.2

General Tips

  • Make your expectations as clear as possible. When possible, orally explain an assignment, give them a written handout, and place it on the internet for easy access. By doing so, students will be significantly less likely to ask repetitive questions, and be more likely to fully understand the assignment.
  • Specify what the evaluation criteria for an assignment will be. If you are using a rubric for grading, you can also include a copy of it. Students are more likely to meet a professors expectations if they know the expectations.1
  • Have consistent parameters in place for all assignments. In your syllabus, it can be advantageous to include any rule that apply to all assignments in your class. Examples include how they are expected to turn it in (such as digitally or physically), preferred font and font size, spacing, and which citation system to use. On assignments themselves, include a word count and/or page count.
  • Name assignments based off of their intentions. If you want students to compare three characters from a novel, you would not call it a book report - it does not accurately reflect the requirements of the assignment. When giving names or titles to assignments, make them short enough for students to grasp, but make sure they communicate the goals of the assignment clearly.2

Fighting Plagiarism

  • Create assignments that are specific to the course. Even with broad or open-ended assignments, require that student work concretely ties back to the course materials. You can also try things like having students to consider less common pieces of literature, or writing more focused prompts.
  • Early in the quarter, use numerous in-class writing assignments. By having students write about impromptu topics, they'll be unable to get outside assistance or do prior research. By becoming familiar with a students general writing style, drastic departures or improvements will be easy to spot out.
  • Change assignment topics often. From quarter to quarter, try to avoid giving the same assignments - it makes it easy for students to hand off prior research (or actual papers) to their peers. In larger, lecture style classes where numerous graders will be used, try to change writing prompts between sections to minimize the odds of people submitting the same assignments.3
  • Have assignments require depth about a topic, not breadth. Students will both learn more, and are more likely to get personally invested in the topic.
  • Require stair-stepped assignments. Activities like peer review, annotated bibliographies, and source evaluations, which all build up to a larger assignment, reduce the chances for students to plagiarize someone else's work.4

Additional resources

Source Information

1. Center for Teaching and Learning. (1996). Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Student Assignments. Retrieved online: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2. Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. Creating Assignments. Retrieved online: Carnegie Mellon University.

3. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Discouraging Plagiarism. Retrieved online: Indiana University, Bloomington.

4. Alice Robison. Designing Activities and Assignments to Discourage Plagiarism. Retrieved online: University of Wisconsin-Madison.