Writing Great Assignment Instructions: Tips for Success

The development of creative, authentic assignments that align with course objectives is always an exciting process. However, guiding students with clearly written assignment instructions can be challenging.

We owe it to our busy online students to provide clear, concise instructions that prepare them for success. This week’s blog will provide some tips to help you to do just that.

Start with a Statement of Purpose

Just as a great essay begins with a strong thesis statement that reveals something of the purpose and direction of the writing, great assignment instructions begin with a clear statement of purpose that provides a brief overview of the assignment. A strong statement of purpose will provide some indication of the context (where the assignment fits into the larger course) as well as a glimpse of what the completed assignment will look like. Here is an example from a recent literacy course:

Successful literacy outcomes depend on content area teachers who are well prepared to support literacy development. This week you will utilize theory and research to inform three Action Plan Goals specific to supporting content area teachers in their literacy instruction. Each of your Literacy Action Plan goals should include a paragraph or two in which you indicate how your library research and school data justify your chosen goals.

Limit your statement of purpose to only a few sentences. You don’t want to overwhelm students with too much detail before they have had the chance to consider the purpose of the assignment.

Action Statements

Once you have outlined the purpose of the assignment, you are ready to provide sequential guidelines. Ultimately, students need to know what action steps they will need to complete in order to be successful, so strong action verbs should be at the heart of assignment instructions.

Keep your action statements as concise as possible. You can always add additional details for clarification, but your students will have clearer guidance if you begin with strong verbs. Here are some examples:

  • Interview your school’s literacy specialist about how they support content area teachers in literacy instruction.
  • Collect school data about literacy performance in your grade level.
  • Research best practices for providing coaching support to content area teachers in their literacy instruction.
  • Annotate three peer edited articles related to best practices surrounding content literacy.
  • Write three action plan goals to improve content area literacy at your school.
  • Justify your chosen action plan goals using specific details from your research.

As an extra bonus, strong verbs are also great scaffolding tools, as your choice of verbs can help you to determine whether your assignment is fulfilling the promise of course objectives and weekly outcomes. Likewise, action verbs used in assignment instructions should also align with the criteria within the assessment rubric.

Additional Expectations and Technical Requirements

Once you have outlined the action steps for the assignment, you will undoubtedly need to fill in some of the details of the assignment. Is there a template or a model assignment? Are there other resources to which students should refer as they complete the assignment? How long should the assignment be? Do you require a title page and references? What format should students use? Where should students submit their assignment?

Add these details as necessary to add clarity.

A Word about Formatting

The online environment can at times be text-heavy, so it is also important to provide visual cues for students. Consider the use of bold type, italics, and bullets to highlight important information, and utilize spacing and indentations to organize your information. Used in moderation, these visual elements can help students to focus on important elements of the assignment.

Ultimately, your clear and concise instructions will provide students with the gift of time, as well-crafted action steps will help them to efficiently complete the assignment.

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