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CTE - Teaching Writing

This guide provides resources and best practices on teaching writing, creating writing prompts and rubrics, and providing feedback on student writing.


This ‘how-to’ guide provides faculty with a walk through of assignment creation from conception to execution.  It also provides a model prompt that applies the best practices described in the guide.


1.Recognize your purpose.

If you are asking students to complete an assignment, what you are really asking them to do is to demonstrate their learning.  Think about whether you want them to demonstrate learning as part of a formative or summative assessment:


Formative assessment: low-stakes assignment aimed at measuring an individual student’s engagement with a specific skill or idea and are used to provide feedback to the professor regarding student learning


Summative assessment: high-stakes assignment aimed at measuring a student’s engagement with a variety of skills or ideas from across multiple units of the course and used to measure and benchmark student learning


2. Connect work with objectives.

Once you know whether you want students to engage in formative or summative assessment, you will then consider how this assignment will help the students meet the objectives of the course:

  • What weekly or course-level objectives are you trying to measure?
  • What do want the students to demonstrate?
  • What is the outcome you want to achieve?
  • What would a response to this assignment look like?


3. Determine the level of the students.

The various course levels correspond to the skill and knowledge basis you can and should expect from your students.  Some action verbs you might incorporate in your assignment for each level would be:

100-Level: identify, define, describe, explain, restate, demonstrate, practice

200-Level: apply, interpret, calculate, compare/contrast, criticize, question

300-Level: evaluate, editorialize, differentiate, distinguish, formulate, measure

400-Level: assess, create, design, invent, justify, propose


4. Articulate the purpose.

Now that you have created a foundation for assessment, you will then want to communicate that to the students.  An effective assignment prompt will explain the purpose for the assignment, the goals you want the student to achieve, and of course, how you want them to do so. 

When writing the assignment, be transparent:

type of assignment: low-stakes/informal or high-stakes/formal assignments

objectives or goals: these can be a bulleted list or a narrative description

skills: list or describe the specific skills you want them to apply

audience: if it is a writing assignment, you can identify who is being addressed.


5. Summarize the assignment.

The summary of the assignment is where you will prompt the student’s thinking about their approach.  You should provide clear descriptions of:

Genre: what type of assignment should a student prepare

Components: what area(s) would you like them to cover

  • Questions you want them to respond to
  • Materials you want them to analyze
  • Parameters you want to set
  • Sections you want them to cover
  • Skills you want them to apply


6. Be specific with execution requirements.

Execution requirements cover some of the logistical concerns you will want to set:

Length: word count, page count, source usage

Formatting: text, font size, spacing, margins

Citation: style and parts (header, heading, cover letter, abstract, references)

Due date / procedure: date of submission and method


7. Include your evaluation criteria.

You should be able to easily articulate your assessment strategy to students so that they can understand and meet your expectations.

Formative assessment: bulleted list of questions/criteria; description of ‘completeness’

Summative assessment: formal rubric with breakdowns of categories and weights

No matter the assessment strategy, you will want to use precise language.  For instance, instead of saying a ‘strong thesis statement,’ you may want to use the characteristics of ‘strong’: clear, specific, original, argumentative. 



Some additional support for students may include:

  • Links to references that may be used to help student formulate a response
  • Writing guides tailored to the specific assignment / genre
  • Examples of models from previous students used with permission
  • Embedded video of an explanation of the assignment
  • List of ‘common errors’ or ‘FAQ’ about the assignment
  • Contact information to campus resources


To get you started, you can use the following model prompt from one of our writing courses: