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Creating Engaging Writing Assignments

The Meaningful Writing Project

When students find a writing assignment engaging, they will spend more time working on it and set more ambitious goals for their work. In the Meaningful Writing Project, researchers surveyed undergraduate students and faculty about their experiences with college writing assignments, seeking to understand what qualities in assignments tended to produce these results. Their work has several results you may find it useful to consider when designing writing assignments for your own students. Their findings included the following:

  • Meaningful writing assignments gave students a sense of agency in writing. Students sought "opportunities or freedom to pursue topics of interest, to connect those topics to what they had passion for or had experienced, and to map their meaningful writing projects to their future writing and professional identities."
  • Meaningful writing assignments required interaction with others. This could include feedback on drafts from an instructor, critical discussion of work-in-progress with peers, co-authoring with peers, and the goal of sharing the writing with readers outside of the course.
  • Meaningful writing assignments connected to past and future work. Students appreciated the chance to use prior learning in a new context. They also appreciated assignments they saw as developing knowledge or skills they would need in the future.

The Meaningful Writing Project researchers offer the following advice to instructors:

  • Ask students to reflect on what is meaningful to them about the writing they do in your courses.
  • Look for places an assignment can be made more expansive, inviting, or more past/future oriented for students.
  • Consider how students can take the knowledge they develop in your course and take it forward.
  • Think about utilizing peer review, drafting, or in-class work with writing in your course.
  • Strive for and recognize moments in office hours that help students make connections with their current/future selves.