The availability of generative AI requires writing instructors to be more deliberate about assignment design. Yet many principles we have always valued remain the same: Prompts should provide opportunities for students to use writing as a means to practice critical thinking and reflection; to engage deeply with texts, using sources to help them generate interesting questions and develop compelling arguments; and to recognize the ethical and social dimensions of writing.

We can encourage students to embrace these opportunities through tapping their intrinsic motivation—striving, as John Bradley puts it, to craft assignments that are “transformational” rather than “transactional.”  We begin with some general recommendations that draw on Mary-Ann Winkelmes’s research-based guidelines for transparent assignment design and are oriented toward this goal.

Writing assignments should include the following, ideally in about one page:

Purpose: Begin by briefly describing the purpose of the assignment, how doing the assignment helps students reach a particular learning goal of the course. You may want to connect this goal to a future application in or beyond your course.

Tasks: Craft a concise, specific prompt that is meaningful and relevant to students’ lives. This might mean asking students to draw on personal experiences, but it might also mean asking them to write for an authentic audience (not just you), in a genre relevant to their future professional or civic lives, or in connection to an urgent local or global challenge.

Be sure to incorporate a series of process steps and deadlines. This might include brainstorming activities, proposals, drafts (for peer review, in-class workshops, or conferences), and reflective writing.

Criteria: Show students what success looks like. Offer models of effective compositions, and invite students to analyze those models to develop a critical understanding of how they work. Consider using models published in Deerfield, the Writing Program journal of outstanding undergraduate writing, or other BU student publications

Tell students what you will focus on in your feedback and assessment. Consider deemphasizing criteria that AI-generated prose can easily meet and emphasizing criteria like intellectual risk-taking, originality, nuance, etc. (Note the useful distinction Kevin Gannon makes between “logistical rigor” and “cognitive rigor”—and don’t mistake the former for the latter.)

See also Anatomy of an Assignment Sheet

Learn More: Writing Instruction in the Age of Generative AI