Instructors sometimes assign papers that are beyond the range of what most students can realistically complete. But they will try. A vague, poorly conceived, or disproportionately laborious assignment can turn students away from the learning process and lower their motivation quickly. On the other hand, a well-crafted and well-proportioned assignment with clearly articulated objectives can be highly motivating.

If you want to know how well students understood the explanation of Ohm’s law in lecture, you can assign a minute-paper at the end of the class in which students briefly jot down and explain the main points. If you want them to explore on their own the importance and applications of Ohm’s law, a five-page research paper might be more appropriate and could take them weeks to prepare. If all the material for such a paper has been presented in course materials already, the same objective could be reached with a two-page brief due at the next section meeting.

Consider a list of prompts for a writing assignment. How would you order them on a scale of least sophisticated to most sophisticated? Least time-consuming to grade to most?

  • Distinguish Marx’s main ideas about ideology from Althusser’s.
  • Explain the difference between interspecific and intraspecific competition.
  • Explain the difference between interspecific and intraspecific competition, and determine which form of competition predominates in the example provided.
  • Write a position paper on one major environmental justice issue in the Bay Area.
  • Define “simile.”
  • Define “simile,” identify one in the poem, and explain what it contributes to the poem.
  • Restate Ohm’s law in your own words.