Assignments are tasks requiring student engagement and a final tangible product that enables you to assess what your students know and don’t know. They represent on of the most common ways to assess learning.  They can be either low-stakes [formative assessment] or high-stakes [summative assessment], so the number and type of assignments will depend upon your course design, learning outcomes, and course enrollment numbers.


  • Easier and less time-consuming to construct than exams
  • Promotes higher-order thinking (application, synthesis, and evaluation)
  • Transfer and generalization more likely than for exams


  • May require additional resources (e.g. lab space or other facilities)
  • May require class time (e.g. group projects, presentations, etc.) 
  • Typically more time consuming to grade than exams
  • May be less effective for introductory level content

Types of Assignments

There are various types of assignments that can be used to develop or demonstrate students' higher-order thinking skills, writing skills, presentation skills and/or collaboartive and interpersonal skills.

  • Essays are used to assess student comprehension over specific content and the ability to explain the material in their own words.
  • Writing or research papers focus on student comprehension, ability to understand material, but depending upon the purpose of the paper, can also measure student’s innovation or evaluation abilities.
  • Oral presentations are used as a method to assess oral presentational skills, understanding of the content, and ability to organize and structure material.
  • Projects are an exceptional method to assess student’s creation or innovation abilities. For example, a student has to understand the material, apply their understanding to another context, and construct a project based upon this comprehension.
  • Case studies are used to apply class content to a specific individual, usually themselves.
  • Labs are an ideal method to apply abstract ideas or theories to concrete experiences.
  • Group assignments are able to assess interpersonal, communication, and collaborative skills of students. For collaboration, a student must be able to synthesize the material from group members and help create a group solution or product.  

Create the Assignment

1. Identify Purpose

  • Use your course learning outcomes to guide the content and purpose for assignments.
  • Decide whether the assignment is part of the learning process [formative] or intended to be used to evaluate what students know and are able to do at the end of a unit or course [summative].
  • Determine how much the assignment score will count towards the overall course grade.

2. Select Assignment Type

The following table shows the common types of assignments based on what you intend students to learn: 

3. Construct the Assignment

After determing the type of assignment that students will complete, specify details related to its content, requirements and organization.

  • Provide clear, concise instructions that include explanations of the necessary backgroun information, description of tasks and product requirements.
  • Consider designing multiple assignments that build upon each other.  This is an effective strategy for teaching concepts or processes that build on prior knowledge.
  • Clearly state the due date and any policy for accepting late work.
  • For major assignments, consider due dates for drafts or other milestones

4. Develop the Grading Criteria

Clear guidelines for evaluating assignments helps the students understand the expectations for completing the assignment and assists you in effectively and efficiently grading their product.

  • Consider what success will look like for students completing the assignment including the knowledge and skills required.
  • Rubrics are a common way for creating clear grading guidelines.
  • Provide the criteria to students when you first explain the assignment.
  • Consider providing examples of excellent final products to show students your expectations. You can use examples of previous students' work (first remove their names and ID numbers), or examples created by instructors if necessary. 

5. Determine the Type of Feedback

Now that you have the assignment and how the product will be evaluated, consider the type of feedback students will be given afterwards.

  • Informal Feedback enables students to understand what they need to know or be able to do in the midst of learning, so they can adjust their learning activities to reach the assignments goal (e.g. comments provided on a draft of a paper being written).  
  • Formal Feedback discloses how well students have mastered the intended learning outcome of an assignment and may disclose gaps in students' understanding.

6. Prepare Students

Students should not be forced to guess how to complete an assignment or how it will be evlauated.  When handing out an assignment go over the content, format, and expectations of deliverable with your students.  Provide students with a copy of the grading criteria, the due date, policy regarding late work, and an opportunity to ask questions.

7. Monitor Student Progress

Giving feedback and guidedance as students work on major assignments is important.

  • Require drafts of their work to ensure students start on their assignment while enabling you to track their learning progress.  Assigning a portion of their overall grade to drafts helps to convey the importance of the process.
  • Encourage students to review each others' work helps improve the overall quality of the end product.  This process is often called Peer Assessment and is useful technique for those teaching large classes.

8. Grade Assignment

9. Evaluate Assignment

After you have completed grading the assignment, reflect upon how well your students met the learning outcome with their final products.  Consider whether the assignment needs to be adjusted to better serve your intended learning outcome for the next time this course is taught.