Backward Design—Making a Writing Plan

Time required: Medium to High

Grading: Varies

Disciplines: All

Why:  Including an intentional sequence of writing assignments in your course can help students achieve course goals

How: Make a list of major course goals.  Consider both content and other skills you would like students to leave your class with (critical thinking and problem-solving in your discipline, improved attitude towards your discipline, information literacy, metacognitive skills, etc.)

  • Choose a goal and brainstorm the types of assignments that will support that goal
    • Remember that, “…writing is both a process of doing critical thinking and a product that communicates the result of critical thinking.” (Bean, p. 4).
    • Start small—try adding one new assignment a semester until you’ve built your sequence
    • Sequential assignments could include:
      • Problems in your discipline that you can pose to your students, from simple to complex throughout the semester
      • Elements of the rhetorical genres and “moves” of your discipline (data-supported arguments, literary analysis, critique, analogy, debate), with increasing sophistication throughout the sequence
      • Repeated assignments of similar type to measure progress
      • Components of a larger project completed in sequence throughout the semester
    • Consider including writing formats that reflect common tasks in your discipline (emails, surveys, contracts, proposals, blogs, memos, etc.)
  • Remember that the best assignments are the ones that students want to write and you want to read!

Sources: Engaging Ideas by John C. Bean and The Elements of Teaching Writing by Katherine Gottschalk and Keith Hjortshoj