Mayo's Clinics

Dec 17, 2017, 13:38
Developing Unusual Assignments

Developing Unusual Assignments

Keep students growing intellectually by adding student-developed assignments that add spark, imagination and encourage students to take responsibility for their academic growth.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Last month, we discussed ways to make assignments more creative. This month, we will review some strategies to create or adapt normal information into unusual assignments.

One reason to create unusual assignments is that they can stretch your creativity as a teacher or give you an outlet for it, depending on your teaching situation and the course’s structure. If some of these ideas work for you, use them; if not, maybe they can trigger your own imagination to create other new and unusual assignments.

Student-developed Assignments
By involving students in the creation of their own assignments, you can shift the focus on learning new material from you to learning from an activity – a key principle of the flipped classroom – by asking them to create something other than the typical research paper. While there is nothing wrong with a research paper, they are excellent ways to promote critical thinking and expand the range of reading in a course, they are often used without much thought about other options. To keep students growing intellectually, try unusual assignments that can add spark and imagination. Student-developed assignments also encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and academic growth, rather than solely placing that task upon their teacher.

The key principle of student-developed assignments is the clarity of instructions and the details about how they will be evaluated. Some suggestions for student-developed assignments include:

  • Bingo games – students are asked to identify key concepts in the unit or topic being studied and then have to develop examples of them or definitions – not using the words in the text book – so that they could lead a game of bingo. It requires them to review the material and sort key concepts from minor ones and come up with a lot of words or concepts.
  • Crossword puzzles – students are asked to create a crossword puzzle using key terms, practices, and principles covered in the unit or topic being studied. They have to create the horizontal and vertical boxes, decide where they cross each other and then create definitions – or crossword clues – associated with the number for each word. It encourages them to look at crossword puzzles, work on the correct spelling and see how many words they can get to connect or cross with each other.
  • Ingredient list – students are asked to create a list of ingredients for a particular recipe or food item and add unnecessary additional items or list the amounts of some ingredients correctly and some incorrectly. They should then arrange them in alphabetical order, rather than by the order they would be used, to make the assignment more intriguing. This assignment helps them learn thoroughly the items necessary for a specific recipe.

Evaluating these assignments involves assessing items such as: the quality of the clues or definitions, spelling, the overall creativity of the assignment, any errors in numbering clues or placing ingredients.

Student-designed Study Assignments
Some teachers encourage students to make up test questions or develop project assignments as a way to get students to read and review the material in videos, lectures, demonstrations, and class discussions.

  • Developing test items can take the form of short answer, true false, multiple choice, or essay questions. (Since complete-the-sentence, fill-in-the-blank, and matching-items are not great formats for tests, I encourage you not to use them.) Assigning students the responsibility to develop questions for a potential test will force them to review the material.

    You can require students bring three copies to class when the assignment is due. One copy is for your records and evaluation purposes, and the other two can be handed out to other students in the class. Students then have to answer questions their peers have created. This strategy becomes a way to help students learn the material from a vast array of perspectives, as no two students will think up the exact same question or use the same format for a topic.
  • Creating a project assignment is another unusual activity for students. Asking them to prepare a detailed assignment, whether menu development or analysis, staffing for a dining room, or organizing the publicity for a special dinner. By requesting students prepare a detailed assignment, you challenge them to think through the details of the project: how it should be conducted, what the final product would be, and how it would be evaluated.

Evaluating student work involves assessing several items: the extent to which they focused on major points and issues rather than minor points, the clarity of the questions or assignment they write, the range of question types or projects they use, and the lack of spelling errors.

These two different approaches – student-developed assignments and study assignments– may give you new ideas for your teaching. If so, have fun.

Try out these ideas and see what happens. Next month, we will discuss writing assignments. If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide. 

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