When asking students to do a written task, make sure you are clear about the role, audience, format, and topic for their writing.


If students understand what type of skill and in what context they are being asked to perform, they are more likely to meet the instructor’s expectations and learning goals.

For example, the standard prompt “write a paper about TOPIC” would need to consider:

  • What specific kind of writing is being asked of the student as the writer (role): analyze, interpret, summarize?
  • Who is the audience for the paper? The instructor, fellow classmates, an educated public, experts, novices, etc.?
  • What format should the paper take? How many pages, sources with citations, title, etc.?
  • What about the topic? Help students narrow down a large topic into something manageable based on the other 3 factors. Offer a few examples of ways into the topic.

There is some freedom to make the assignment more creative by allowing students to write from a perspective not their own (roleplay), to a different kind of audience (such as a friend or family member), or in a different format than an essay (letter, op-ed). They also may be able to choose some of these elements for themselves.

Further Reading:

Bean – Engaging Ideas, Chapter 5: Formal Writing Assignments

Santa, Havens & Valdes – Project CRISS: Creating Independence through Student-owned Strategies in Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap, Grades 4-12 (2004)

Created by Kaitlin Mondello
Reviewed by Louis Olander


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