In class writing assignments are a great way to encourage classroom discussions. My courses are not writing intensive and most of my students are eager to speak in class but there is another layer of learning that comes out in their written work. I teach courses that discuss issues about race, ethnicity, gender and income inequalities. My students often experience these issues firsthand and are very engaged in understanding different perspectives on the origins of inequalities as well as ways to resolve them. Each week, I write a thought question on the board and ask them to answer the question in about a paragraph. They have 10 minutes to complete this writing exercise. Then they hand in their papers and we discuss the question as a group. This usually leads into the topic of discussion for the day/week.
Low stakes writing assignments are great because, unlike term papers, they are usually more informal and are meant to ignite the learning process within the classroom space. Students will often integrate their personal experiences or recent news stories into their responses—which shows that they are able to apply the materials learned in my class. I count low stakes assignments as part of my students’ participation grade and offer feedback that connects their response to the larger discussions within our class. Sometimes, I have my students form groups of 4 or 5 and have mini discussions about their responses. I usually walk around the classroom and listen in on their discussions to ensure that they are actually talking about the assignment. This multi-method approach has generated lively debates and discussions in my classrooms and I’m currently working on integrating different forms of multi-media into this pedagogical strategy.