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Creative Ways to Design Assignments for Student Success

There are many creative ways in which teachers can design assignments to support student success. We can do this while simultaneously not getting bogged down with the various obstructions that keep students from both completing and learning from the assignments. For me, assignments fall into two categories: those that are graded automatically, such as SmartBook® readings and quizzes in Connect®; and those that I need to grade by hand, such as writing assignments.  

For those of us teaching large, introductory classes, most of our assignments are graded automatically, which is great for our time management. But our students will ultimately deliver a plethora of colorful excuses as to why they were not completed and why extensions are warranted. How do we give them a little leeway to make the semester run more smoothly, so there are fewer worries about a reading that was missed or a quiz that went by too quickly? Here are a few tactics I use. 

Automatically graded assignments: 

Multiple assignment attempts  

  • This eases the mental pressure of a timed assignment and covers computer mishaps or human error on the first attempt. 
  • You can deduct points for every attempt taken if you are worried about students taking advantage. 

Automatically dropped assignments  

  • Within a subset or set of assignments, automatically drop a few from grading. This can take care of all excuses for missing an assignment. 
  • Additionally, you can give a little grade boost to those who complete all their assignments (over a certain grade). 

Due dates  

  • Consider staggering due dates during the week instead of making them all due on Sunday night.  
  • Set the due date for readings the night before you cover the material, so students are prepared.  


  • If we want our students to read, then make a reading assignment a requirement of a quiz. 

The tactics above might be applied to written assignments, too. An easy way to bolster a student’s interest and investment in these longer assignments is to give them a choice. This could be in the topic, location of study, or presentation style. For example, if you want them to analyze the susceptibility of a beach to hurricane threat, why not let them choose the location? In this way, you will also be gaining a lot of new information for your own use. 

With a small amount of effort, we can design our classes, so students concentrate on learning the subject matter rather than the logistics of completing the assignments. 

About the Author

Gina Seegers Szablewski has taught large introductory geology classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for over 20 years with a total of nearly 20,000 students. Having received her BA in geology from Lawrence University and MS in geology (sedimentology) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she first worked as a geologist in environmental consulting for 7 years. Currently, she teaches physical and environmental geology and earth science classes in person and online, while working with McGrawHill in a variety of roles, not just as the author of Environmental Geology but also as a digital faculty consultant, subject matter expert, and lead digital author. She enjoys sharing with other teachers her experiences using digital content in and out of the classroom to improve both teaching and learning. She is an active member of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and the Geological Society of America, and she frequently attends short courses and workshops associated with geoscience education. When she is not learning, teaching, and thinking about science and science education, she enjoys hiking, traveling, yoga, walking her standard poodle, reading, cooking, and crocheting. She and her husband have two children – one a high school earth science teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and one a mechanical engineer in Boston, MA.

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