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Major Class Assignment Types and Why I Use Them

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We’ve officially arrived at week four of the “Successful Start” series. So far, we’ve covered the syllabus, the course schedule, and icebreakers. Next week we’ll wrap up with student self-assessments. But today, it’s all about your major class assignments and how to introduce them to your students. In the workbook, I cover standard and nonstandard elements when creating your assignment instruction sheets. In today’s video (embedded in this post), I discuss how I introduce my major assignments to students during the first week of class (and why I do so during week one). In this blog post, I’m going over a few of the major assignment types I’ve used in my courses (examples included), in case you’re stuck on deciding what assignments to include in your courses (or don’t know where to begin). I’ve included my perspective on why I think these assignments work well for students and for instructors, as well.

I've included my perspective on why I think these assignments work well for students and for instructors. #teaching Click To Tweet

A Group Project

Example: A Group Project My Students Actually Enjoy

I’m starting with this type of major class assignment because I know how many students dislike having to complete a group project. And I know many of us college instructors were the type of student who hated group projects because we were perfectionists or just constantly worried about our groupmates completing their work.

Whatever subject you teach, your students will need to be able to work collaboratively in the future (if not already). Giving them a chance to practice this skill is imperative, in my opinion. It also has benefits for you, as well. If students are turning in an assignment as a group, you’ll likely have much less material to grade for this assignment. That’s one way to make grading faster. A group project also tends to give students a lot of agency on what class topics or materials to focus on, which helps them get more invested in your course. That should make your life easier, too, as students will need less enticement to take their education into their own hands.

To help insure that students who tend to work twice as hard as their groupmates to complete the activity don’t get penalized for this discrepancy, my group project includes elements completed as a group and elements completed individually. In this way, half of their project grade derives from the group’s work, while the other half derives from the individual’s work. This helps all students feel driven to complete the group project, since they can’t just depend on others to complete it for them. The Type A students feel less stressed, since they know a large portion of their grade depends only on their own work.

I have a YouTube video where I talk more about grading unit projects like this one, in case you’re unsure about that facet of the project design.

And here’s a video all about designing a group project:

To help insure that students who tend to work twice as hard as their groupmates to complete the activity don't get penalized for this discrepancy, my group project includes elements completed as a group and elements completed… Click To Tweet

An Individual Presentation

Example: Types of Student Presentations

This class assignment is another one that many students wish they didn’t have to complete. I know I hated them, because I had (and still have at times) such a strong fear of public speaking. But, considering my current profession as a teacher, practicing my public speaking skills was obviously a very valuable element of my education. And, it’s a rare job that doesn’t require you to speak with others. Not just speak to others, but explain ideas, situations, or products in a manner that gets your point across well and produces the end result you’re looking for.

So, I suggest including at least one individual presentation in your course, even if it’s not a major assignment on its own. It can be an element of a larger assignment or just a mini class activity done one day in the semester. Whatever the case may be, this is another project type that can make grading easier for you and that can give students the power to choose what to focus on and really dive into as a student in your class.

A few pieces of advice to help those really nervous students: 1. Model an example or two of the presentation yourself before having students complete their own. 2. Tell them that they can practice their presentation in front of just you during your office hours or by appointment. 3. Remind them of the usefulness of note cards and/or presentation slides if they are worried about forgetting essential information. 4. Let them choose the order in which they present their projects.

Here’s a blog post about connecting with shy students.

A Personal Narrative

Example: A Short Autobiography

My blog post on this assignment type goes into a lot of detail on why I include this project in my courses. So, I’ll keep it brief here. I assign this project during week one and it’s due by the end of week two. It’s a 2-page autobiography that asks students to answer a short prompt tied to the course topic. It equates to 10% of the overall course grade, but 5% can work fine, too.

This assignment allows me to get to know my students on an individual level immediately at the start of the semester. It’s a fast way to learn about your students and to help see them as the diverse group of individuals they are, rather than just a “classroom full of undergraduates” or a “group of non-majors,” etc.

Watch Now: How to Introduce Your Major Class Assignments to Your Students

Include an assignment in your class that offers students multiple chances to complete the activity, but gives them room to pick which opportunity they want to use. #teach Click To Tweet

The Assignment with Options

Example: Literary Analysis Discussion Posts

As you’ll notice with all the assignments described so far, I’m a big believer in the power of giving students choices and agency in completing their projects. This major assignment is just one more example of this philosophy. Include an assignment in your class that offers students multiple chances to complete the activity, but gives them room to pick which opportunity they want to use. This type of activity also gives students the ability to improve their grade on the project by completing additional options.

For example: You assign students to read 5 novels or to complete 5 lab experiments. Of those 5 tasks, students have to write 3 literary analysis discussion posts or 3 extensive lab reports. Students can pick which 3 posts/reports to complete, and they can complete more than 3 if they’re unhappy with their first and/or second grade. Only the 3 highest grades on these 5 options will count towards their overall project grade.

This type of major class assignment helps spread out your grading load. It also gives students the opportunity to complete the assignment with the course material that interests them the most. And they can improve their grades without having to ask for extra credit or for special permission to revise an already completed assignment.

A Long Written Assignment

Example: A Literary Analysis Paper or Research Paper or Journal Article or Blog

Long written assignments are common practice in the courses I teach (literature and composition), but they are also pretty common in other areas of study, as well. Unsurprising, as they allow students to practice creating a sustained argument or explanation. Depending on the subject you teach, you’re longer writing assignments might have very strict genre conventions. Whatever the case may be, I still suggest giving students the chance to pick their assignment focus.

Writing a literary analysis paper? Let them pick the text and the argument they want to make.

Writing a research paper? Let them pick the topic tied to your course subject.

Writing a business proposal? Let them pick the business.

Students often struggle with writing longer pieces. This task is made even harder if they are required to write about something they have no interest in. They might not have a choice later on (at work, for example), but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have options while still learning how to write these types of genres.

This type of class assignment is a great one to consider in terms of multimodal or digital composition, as well. #edutwitter Click To Tweet

A Creative Project

Example: A Festival or Literary Adaptation or Creative Narrative

There are so many ways to design this type of assignment that I’m not even going to try to describe the options here. I’ve linked above a few examples of what I’ve used in my own courses. What I will say here is that creative projects are often not given the respect they deserve. Getting students to think outside the box is a great way to help them improve their critical thinking skills and their ability to be flexible and adapt to different situations. While most of your class assignments can focus on practicing formal types of writing in your field, I highly recommend including an assignment that allows students to expand how they perceive the subject they are studying and also how they can respond to this subject in more than just the standard ways.

This type of class assignment is a great one to consider in terms of multimodal or digital composition, as well. Perhaps have students design a poster or create a website that teaches others about a class topic. Students can practice different types of literacies with creative projects, which isn’t always the case with more academic genres.

Here are five digital major projects to try out!

Additional Resources

Why Digital Assignments Are The Best Assignments (video)

6 Tips for Designing Major Assignments (two videos)

Twenty Ideas for Engaging Projects

Dogfooding: How Often Do You Do Your Own Assignments?

How to Design a Wikipedia Writing & Research Assignment

Next Time, on “Successful Start”…

In the last installment of this series, we’ll be discussing the benefits of including a student self-assessment activity during the first week of class. You can’t meet or purposely not meet students’ expectations of your class if you don’t know what they are. You can’t know what skills and knowledge they already have in relation to your course topic without asking them about these aspects of their experiences. So, designing a self-assessment is an important last step as you prep for your first week. If you don’t have the workbook yet, I highly recommend downloading it in preparation for this final step and to help you with all the other material already covered.

Comment Below: Which of the assignments above are you most likely to include in your classroom?

Not sure what major class assignments to include in your courses? Here are 6 examples of projects I've used that have worked well with my students. #teaching #highereducation
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  1. Marta - Imperfect Life Balance

    I used to hate group assignments! But you are so right! This introduced me to working in teams in a workplace. Looking back now, I see how important it was.

    • Erika Romero

      Yes, hindsight really showed me what assignments actually DO have lasting effects on tasks I need to complete all the time now. It’s all about helping students see the benefits, too.

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