Sample Writing Assignments | Sample Research Project 

In-Class Assignments For Student Writing

Using Quotations

Overview: A handout for an advanced in-class lesson on using quotations to strengthen students’ writing style as well as to provide evidence in an argumentative essay. There is also an exercise component that can be done either in-class or as homework for students to do peer evaluations or to critique their own work.

Often students think about quotations as a necessary evil, collecting scattered bits of text that might be useful as evidence and that can be cut and pasted into their drafts. As a result, quotations are often seen as separate from the process of writing itself. In my first year as a first year writing seminar instructor, teaching my students how to use quotations meant emphasizing that textual evidence was needed in every paragraph, that quotations needed to be integrated, and that quotations should always be cited properly. My students would pick up these lessons in the first half of the term, but after that point I would sometimes find myself unsatisfied with their usages of quotations that could still seem rather basic or perfunctory despite fulfilling these criteria. It was during my second year of teaching, as I continued to improve my abilities as a writing instructor, that I developed this lesson to help students become more aware and more precise about their usage of quotations, and to challenge them to use quotations on a more advanced level to enhance their argument and their writing style.

This assignment won the John S. Knight Award for Writing in the Disciplines.

Click here to view assignment.

Collaborative Paragraphs and Punctuation with Google Documents
Overview: A week-long series of collaborative group writing exercises using Google Documents to write paragraphs incorporating theoretical terms and varied punctuation.

When we are teaching our students how to write, I’ve found that an ongoing concern is how to give our students time to practice these writing techniques outside of essay drafts and editing.  In my seminar I like emphasizing the importance of building dialogue and community for collaborative intellectual discussion and I wanted to bring this same group dynamic to writing. How can they learn to use their critical and argumentative skills as a group through writing? How can we address the importance, as well as the possible intimidation factor, of using varied punctuation to enhance clarity and style in writing?

In order to address these concerns, I designed this writing exercise by turning to Google Documents, which is housed under Google Drive. Google Documents is a free service offered by Google that allows people to share files as well as create and edit documents in real time with other users. While I do not believe in technological gimmicks, Google Documents is a useful tool for aiding pedagogy and introducing our students to the latest technologies for editing that augment classic writing techniques. The use of Google Documents helps students to expand their discussions and writing practices with each other beyond the time in the classroom.

This writing exercise takes place over 3 classes and involves 3 handouts, combining the teaching of analysis alongside punctuation. This is the week that we began reading Toni Morrison’s Sula; I imagine that other instructors using this exercise as a model can substitute any primary reading of their choice.

This assignment won the Honorable Mention for the John S. Knight Award for Writing in the Disciplines.

Click here to view assignment.

Wiki-Style Encyclopedia Entry with Original Research

Overview: A three-part assignment sequence in which students to put together a collaborative wiki-style encyclopedia through Google Sites based on original research about artifacts they’ve found in the Human Sexuality Collection in the Kroch Rare Books Library. Examples of materials include the Harry H. Weintraub Collection of Gay-Related Photography and Historical Documentation.

How can we engage our students in research and writing beyond the traditional format of the research essay? How can we develop their abilities as informed readers and empower them as writers and researchers?

Through this encyclopedia project I wanted to give my students new experiences with both traditional and cutting-edge forms of knowledge: hands-on archival research and collaborative wiki sites exemplified by Wikipedia. In an increasingly digitized age, students have come to rely upon easy access to often dubious Internet sources and may assume that all knowledge worth having is now available in online databases. By working with Brenda Marston, resource librarian for the Human Sexuality Collection, I wanted to introduce my students to the experience and importance of interacting with physical archives and doing original research. Through using Google Sites, a free wiki and web-page creation site, my students became engaged as writers and editors through a new technological tool.

Other important aspects of this project had to do with audience and collaboration. My students created this project that would have a (limited) public presence, and, therefore, a different form of accountability to their writing and research. (The website is only available to those who have the URL.) Moreover, the wiki format entails a degree of collaboration that goes beyond typical peer editing for essays: while the project draws upon peer editing skills, it involves the creation of a final product that would be a collective effort

Click here to view assignment sequence.

My students’ projects were used by the Kroch Rare Books Library to demonstrate the work that undergraduates can do with the collections.

You can view the finished projects here:

Encyclopedia of the Cornell Human Sexuality Collection

Encyclopedia of the Cornell Human Sexuality Collection II