Reasons for Alternatives to Term Papers

Alternatives can . . .

  • lighten the grading load
  • be used to develop abilities on the way to writing complex papers
  • provide ways of using other strengths our students might have
  • accustom students to different voices and modes of communication
  • allow students to create work for a larger audience, and go beyond work that is only seen by the student and the professor
  • create opportunities for making a contribution beyond the class to the college or to communities beyond Lawrence

Alternative Assignments & Activities

  • Edit a text after having seen good and bad examples of writing
  • Judge and "fund" a research proposal
  • In class discussion, generate paper topics based on a specific article
  • Write a review of a book, reference work, website, performance
  • Write an encyclopedia article complete with bibliography
  • Write program notes for a recital, concert, or recording
  • Annotate an article for a novice reader
  • Write or create a piece of music, art, or creative writing in a particular style or genre
  • Prepare an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, websites and other sources on a topic and write descriptive or evaluative annotations
  • All-but-the-paper term paper: have students do every step in the research paper process and then write the introductory and concluding pages, a detailed outline of the body, and an annotated bibliography.
  • Have students keep a detailed research log of the research process addressing methodology, sources consulted, keywords or headings searched, their frustrations, etc.
  • Write a research proposal including description of the research topic, the problem associated with it, the proposed answer or research to solve the problem, including a bibliography of primary and secondary sources
  • Taking sides: have students research an aspect of a topic and present in a debate setting. As an alternative to a debate consider role playing.
  • Two-minute oral reports to flesh out the context of the assigned readings for a class session
  • Put on a conference complete with poster sessions, panels, papers, etc.
  • Research the reception history of a work
  • Summarize the literature on a topic and present the findings
  • Create an anthology of readings complete with an introduction and reading summaries
  • Create a pathfinder or website of different types of information sources on a topic
  • Compare and contrast primary and secondary sources: there are several versions of this assignment
    • have the students find reporting on a study in a popular magazine and then have them find the actual study or
    • have the students investigate a media topic back to the source or
    • have the students choose an autobiography and then locate secondary sources.

Tips for Successful Alternative Assignments & Activities

You might need or want to . . .

  • be clear about your reasons for creating the assignment in the first place.  What problems, skills, or knowledge are you working to address?
  • make sure they understand the scope of the assignment or activity.  If helpful and appropriate, give a limited range of choices.
  • make your evaluation criteria clear from the outset
  • work with a librarian or an information technology expert to design the assignment
  • avoid the assumption that your students have the knowledge they need to complete their assignment
  • assign or devote class time to tasks that will help students develop the skills necessary to complete the assignment
  • call on the technical experts
  • have a librarian test-drive the assignment
  • give the students a series of specific questions to help them structure their work
  • set very clear expectations for the work; make these kinds of things explicit:
    • presentation time allowed
    • elements of a good handout
    • amount of preparation time
    • kinds of research materials that will be acceptable
    • conventions of different or unfamiliar kinds of writing, like annotations
  • set intermediate deadlines for different parts of the alternatives
  • require students to analyze connections and disagreements among and between expert opinions

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