Writing assignments are more successful in promoting student learning if you have articulated clear learning objectives. To construct learning objectives (i.e., what students should be able to do or demonstrate), many instructors use a classification system designed in the mid-1950s by Benjamin Bloom et al., commonly referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. Simply put, this classification system (presented in greater detail on the page Taxonomy of Learning Objectives) consists of six different levels of cognitive skills, starting with the simplest, lower-order thinking skills of knowledge or comprehension and moving to cognitive skills that demonstrate higher-order thinking skills such as an ability to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate material.

When we create assignments or develop test questions, we can use verbs associated with each of these levels to promote or test how deeply students have learned something. If, for example, a student is able to list the major battles of the Civil War, the student demonstrates knowledge. If a student is able to compare two different theories about the causes of the Civil War and evaluate their merits and limitations, they have demonstrated a more complex set of cognitive skills, the ability to compare and evaluate. Each level in the classification has verbs associated with it that you can use to tailor your writing assignments and exam questions to specific learning objectives. Using appropriate verbs from the italicized lists on the page Taxonomy of Learning Objectives, think about assignments you might create for students to promote learning or to evaluate how well they have learned course material.