USE LOW-STAKES AND NONGRADED WRITING

  1. Ask students to write for brief periods at the beginning of a class to help stimulate discussion or at the end to help them focus.  If discussion lags or reaches an impasse, students can be asked to write out a response to share. Students also can bring to class written definitions of key terms to debate or questions about areas of confusion. This kind of informal writing need not be collected. Its purpose is to encourage active engagement with the material and prompt thinking that could be used in bigger, more discipline-specific assignments.
  2. Give students prompts for brief free writes (often called "quick writes") that are explicitly tied to the paper topics they might pursue later on.  These don't need to be graded or even collected; instead, ask students to take them home and review them as they start to write the actual draft.
  3. Assign some type of journal.  Depending on the discipline, students could be required to keep a journal, process log, observation notebook, self-evaluation form, or free writing booklet and use it to record impressions, confusions, questions, notes, and ideas as they occur.  Free writing activities like these afford students a low-stakes environment to practice the terminology you want them to employ.  Grading can be done CR/NC: students have done it (or met the required number of entries) or they have not.
  4. Ask students to write learning letters/emails to each other about some persistent conceptual problem in the course.  Assign a grade to the letter-writing pair for having met some basic, easily assessable criterion.
  5. Require a brief proposal.  Assign students to write a one-sentence proposal for their longer paper and receive approval from you before beginning to write.  One common effective strategy for creating questions from a topic is to have students work through a sequence that asks them to name their topic, state what they want to find, and provide the rationale for the research.