Formative writing assignments allow students to practice and get feedback on individual elements of a larger assignment before putting them all together and getting a grade. This ability to break things down into smaller steps can be really useful in Gen Ed courses, where different elements of an assignment (e.g., writing an abstract or integrating direct quotes into an essay) might be more or less familiar to different groups of students. Workshopping these assignments—or even just doing them—in class can be a great use of section, and when these smaller assignments are clearly aligned with the steps of a bigger assignment, they can help students recognize the role of process in completing larger assignments while helping teachers know which skills or steps their students need more support with.
Formative assignments work at any stage of a draft/revision cycle:
- Before starting to write a full draft: in-class brainstorming of questions, keeping a reading journal, summarizing sources, drafting a thesis, research proposals, annotated bibliographies, etc.
- While writing a draft: writing intros and conclusions, outlining, delivering elevator pitches to classmates, free writing, practicing forms of analysis, integrating sources
- During revision: peer feedback on workshop drafts, reverse outlining, topic sentence/transition exercises, citation or style exercises.
These assignments can work really well as homework that either receives informal feedback from an instructor or gets workshopped by students in small groups during class, but they can also work great as opportunities for in-class writing.