Assignment Design Checklist

Careful planning and implementation of assignments will help your students produce th evidence you expect to prove they met your learning objective. Consider using this checklist as a tool to trouble-shoot your assignment design and identify possible areas to refine. Other considerations may be required for your specific assignment, but this will give you a great start, no matter what type of assignment you plan to give.

1 Planning

A) When planning the assignment, decide how it can:

  • Fit with main learning objectives for the course, term, and program
  • Relate to previous work done in this course and past courses
  • Be new and different from the type of assignments given in this course and other courses (go beyond another paper)
  • Benefit from an audience other than yourself (peers, community professionals, librarians, others)
  • Use current topics and current resources
  • Be broken into a series of smaller assignments to avoid overwhelming students (scaffold)
  • Be completed – in groups, pairs, or individually
  • Be completed – in the online or hybrid environment
  • Build on students’ previous experience and current skill set
  • Develop important skills for students, both for your course work and beyond (skills for the workplace, skills for life)
  • Require a reasonable amount of work and be successfully completed in the allotted time, given other courses and demands outside of school
  • Have value to you (will be interesting to grade, lead to a research project)
  • Require a level of commitment you can meet (student support, grading and feedback)

B) Consider the support demands students may have:

  • Identify types of assistance students will require to complete the assignment
  • Contact librarians, community professionals, or other people who can assist you and your students in completing the assignment
  • Arrange guest lectures relevant to assignment process (librarian, community professional, colleagues)
  • When possible, use class time for activities to help students complete the assignment (discuss how to write an annotated bibliography, run lab activities to demonstrate a requisite skill, discuss material related to assignment topic)
  • Decide if students are required to meet with you as they complete the assignment and set times and policies for availability to help students avoid procrastinating

C) Make evaluation decisions by choosing the:

  • Assignment length expectations and due dates
  • Type of feedback to give – written, oral, anonymous
  • Evaluators – you, peers, community professional, librarian
  • Type of grade required (check mark, pass/fail, numeric grade)
  • Parts to evaluate – effort, research process, thinking process, progress, sequence of assignments, drafts, final products
  • Weighting of components – how much is each part worth
  • Turnaround times for grading/feedback to make the assignment meaningful for students
  • Policies for possible problems – late or incomplete assignments, missed meetings, poor group work practices, plagiarism

2: Implementing

A) Prepare an assignment description or handout that:

  • Comprises the key parts –  situation (background information, audience, relevance), task (what to do), stages (a timeline for completing key stages of the assignment), and evaluation criteria (specific grading rubric, special policies)
  • Uses plain language – avoids jargon
  • Provides advice from past experiences with the assignment
  • Explains proper citations and acceptable sources for information – be specific and expect to be taken literally

Have a colleague (preferably someone not familiar with your course) read the handout and identify any unclear instructions and jargon, then revise accordingly. As well, do your assignment before giving it to students whenever possible, so you can identify problems before they do. And, when you distribute the handout in class, take time to discuss it and allow for questions and clarifications about the task.

B) Consider giving ongoing support:

  • Share useful student feedback with the class
  • Keep in touch with support people (librarian)
  • Ask for mid-assignment feedback since no news is not necessarily good news
  • Have a backup plan for areas identified as difficult to complete (i.e., if a resource is hard to get, have a copy available on reserve) – but take care not to modify the assignment too much from the handout because this confuses students

3 Follow Up

After all the assignments have been graded and returned:

  • List 5 strengths and 5 weaknesses of the assignment and suggest changes for next time
  • Ask for evaluative feedback from students and support contacts – find out what worked well, what could be improved, where students had the most difficulty, and how you can better facilitate the process next time
  • Use feedback and experiences to modify assignment plan for the next time

Notice that the bulk of the work is in the first section, planning. The more thought and care you put into planning well-constructed assignments the more opportunities your students will have for success.

Download and use the Assignment Design Checklist.

This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Assignment Design: checklist. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.

Remixed by Judith Littlejohn, October 1, 2018. Edits to formatting, wording, and conclusion; created actual checklist.

Featured image = “Pencil” from Pixabay

Designing Assignments that Encourage Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity - Do your own work, cite your sources

Encouraging Academic Integrity

In an ideal environment students would always cite their sources, write their own ideas, and turn in independent work. However, sometimes students break plagiarism rules, unintentionally or on purpose, and we are forced to penalize students instead of provide constructive feedback.

Changing how assignments are designed can help alleviate this problem. It is difficult to Google  answers for authentic assessments that build on prior learning and personal experience.

Here are some ways to design, or re-design, assignments that encourage academic integrity so that you can focus on providing feedback:

Use Assignment Sheets

Most important for any written assignment is the assignment sheet itself. Provide students with an assignment sheet for all written work; doing so clarifies the required task, the parameters for acceptable collaboration, and criteria for evaluation. Rubrics are helpful for clarifying expectations.

Change Assignments Frequently

  • Change your assignments slightly from semester to semester to discourage students from recycling previous students’ work.
  • For large classes, change assignments slightly from section to section to discourage the exchange of papers among friends in different sections (where students are likely to have different graders as well).

Use In-class Writing Assignments

Short in-class writing assignments provide instructors with opportunities to:

  • become familiar with and assess students’ abilities and styles early on so that sudden changes in their writing are more noticeable
  • give students a chance to write extemporaneously, when they cannot become tempted by or mired in others’ words
  • practice using sources: consider asking students to summarize, paraphrase, and/or respond to a source.

Make Your Assignments Specific

Students are far less likely to be able to plagiarize a unique assignment, since sources available to them will not meet the specific requirements of the assignment.

  • Consider a less well known piece:

Rather than: Discuss the importance of literacy to freedom in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative.

Try: Discuss the connection between literacy and freedom in Poynter’s abolitionist tract.

  • Pose a more focused question:

Rather than: What artistic movements influenced the Impressionists?

Try: In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?

  • Ask a question that requires application, rather than explanation of knowledge:

Rather than: Explain the basic functions of the vascular, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.

Try: A cat jumps off the end of a table onto the floor. Describe how its vascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems contribute to this action.

Rather than: Write a review of The Matrix (reviews are especially common on the Web).

Try: How well does The Matrix exemplify Smith’s “nostalgic futurism” in contemporary film?

  • Consider a tight comparison:

Rather than: Analyze Douglass’s attitude toward white abolitionists.

Try: How does Douglass’s notion of audience change between the Narrative and his Life and Times, and how do these two texts differ as a result?

  • Use a “touchstone” assignment:

Ask students to connect their ideas to another aspect of the class—use a point from lecture, a quotation selected from one of your readings (try to choose a less-obvious quotation), an image, or a graph.

Rather than: Discuss how the accused/condemned were treated in Salem.

Try: Using Mary Easty’s petition, explain the condemned’s perspective of the Salem trials.

Assigning Research Paper Assignments

Some suggestions other faculty have found useful in discouraging plagiarism are to:

  • Assign short writing assignment(s) early in the class; this activity will give you the opportunity to see students’ writing capabilities (which makes noticing anomalies easier) and give students a chance to practice
  • Avoid open topic research paper assignments: either select a question (or a series from which students choose) that limits their range OR require a research question in advance of students’ starting their research
  • Consider using shorter, focused assignments alongside long longer papers, or in place of one longer paper, if several are assigned in the course
  • Require that students use local sources—pamphlets, local newspapers and journals, flyers, interviews, etc.
  • Require a bibliography in advance
  • Avoid general annotated bibliographies that only require a summary of the sources themselves; many of these are readily available on the Web
  • Require a bibliography with short summaries of how students see each entry fitting into their topic
  • Require that students turn in part or all of print sources with the final draft
  • Require long papers to build from shorter, earlier papers
  • Utilize SafeAssign in Blackboard and allow the students to see their results

Use An Honor Agreement

You might consider asking your students to sign a statement of agreement concerning academic misconduct. Although not legal documents, these agreements do signal to the students your seriousness about the subject and deflate students’ counter charge that your policy concerning “what you wanted” was not made clear to them. Click here for an example of an Indiana University faculty member’s honor agreement.

Use GCC’s New Plagiarism Policy

At SUNY Genesee Community College we have a new Plagiarism Policy in Procedure 220:

Plagiarism and Cheating: Cheating is obtaining or intentionally giving unauthorized information to create an unfair advantage in an examination, assignment, or classroom situation. Plagiarism is the act of presenting and claiming words, ideas, data, programming code or creations of others as one’s own. Plagiarism may be intentional – as in a false claim of authorship – or unintentional – as in a failure to document information sources using MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), Chicago or other style sheets or manuals adopted by faculty at the College. Presenting ideas in the exact or near exact wording as found in source material constitutes plagiarism, as does patching together paraphrased statements without in-text citation. The purchasing or sharing of papers or projects between students or the re-use of papers or projects submitted for more than one assignment or class also constitutes plagiarism.”

This statement must be posted in every syllabus.

Following this statement, faculty should clearly explain their policy and/or procedures related to managing instances of plagiarism.

For example:

“Plagiarism will not be tolerated. I will ask you to upload your papers to SafeAssign in Blackboard. If plagiarism is found in any essay or assignment, the assignment will receive a “0” without an opportunity to rewrite. You may also be reported to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.”


“The penalty for violating the plagiarism policy is severe. Any student violating the plagiarism policy is subject to receiving a failing grade for the course and will be reported to the Dean of Students. If a student is unclear about whether a particular
situation may constitute an honor code violation the student should meet with the instructor to discuss the situation.”

It is definitely better to design assignments that inherently discourage plagiarism than to engage in the disciplinary process that results from plagiarism.

Original post courtesy of

Edited by: Judith M Littlejohn, 8/27/18

Academic Integrity Image from the University of Waterloo,  CC-BY-NC