Break Down the Assignment Into Steps
For every assignment in every field, students must discern what is being asked of them, grasp the material, and compose their response in a coherent form. Breaking down the assignment into the steps necessary to complete it will promote clearer thinking and better writing.
Work backwards from the completed assignment to determine each step necessary to get there—what do students have to know and what do they have to be able to do?
In Example #1, your students would have to know how Marx, Durkheim, and Weber define “religion,” how that concept figures variously in their works, and the primary relationship between the texts. Students would probably also have to know something about each man’s historical and cultural milieu.
For Example #1, what would students have to be able to do? Compare two or three of these writers in some kind of organized fashion.
Here is an example of how you might break down the assignment for Example #1 to help students:
- Step 1. Understand what religion means for Marx, Durkheim, and Weber.
- Step 2. Identify how the writers’ conceptions of religion are linked.
- Step 3. Develop a thesis based on the specified connections among the writers.
- Step 4. Select and use evidence appropriately.
- Step 5. Develop a logical structure for their essay.
Create in-class activities or mini take-home assignments for these steps to exemplify the kind of thinking and writing your students will be doing in their full assignment.