One of the most challenging times for a student, especially in a First Year Writing course, or in any class with writing, is navigating the assignment., Often, they don’t think about doing a critical reading of the assignment description, or annotating it, like any other text they encounter. And, oftener still, they don’t ask for help when they are confused.
Several years ago, I came up with a simple activity to get them to talk with each other about the assignment itself. It takes three index cards, and something from which they can be drawn, like a bag, or a cap, or envelope.
After they have read over the assignment description (say for a paper), and the instructor has gone over it, the index cards are employed to get them talking about the doing of the work:
- Each student gets a card.
- On the lined side of the card, they write the single thing about the assignment they think will be the most challenging. Ask them to be concise and write only that one thing.
- All the cards go back in the bag.
- Then, everyone draws a new card.
- They then respond to what the card says. This could be identifying with the concern, an answer, or suggestions, etc.
- The cards go back in the bag.
- Each student draws a new card.
- This time, on the blank side, the last student builds on what the first two have said.
- The third student presents to the class. They read the original concern, the response, and then what they wrote to build on it.
- Discussion will begin organically because others will want to respond, etc.; the instructor just needs to guide it.
This not only gets them taking abut the paper they must write, but about studying/writing/reading habits that work, and it eases some of that tension about “looking dumb,” or that “everyone but me gets it” feeling they might have.