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First-Year Seminar for Faculty: Assignment Ideas

General Information and Ideas on Assignments

To maintain some consistency across FYS, the task force recommends argument based and/or research based writing assignments totaling around 15 pages, and ideally no more than 20 pages (or the equivalent in alternative projects).

  • Low-stakes assignments with feedback can encourage students to take intellectual risks, explore, and experience setbacks and frustration so that they develop grit and resilience.
  • Keep in mind that the course is not a writing intensive course, and many students will not have completed their composition courses, ENGL 101 or 115.
  • We strongly encourage other forms of writing assignments that would not count toward the 15 pages, e.g., reflective papers, short response papers, journaling, blogging, or creative forms of writing. For instance, after completing an argument based writing assignment students might write a reflective paper about their research and writing process, or students might keep a journal about their personal responses to the readings or class discussions.

Library Assignments

Each CORE 100 course will have a dedicated Library Liaison who can provide library research instruction and assist with the creation of assignments that incorporate research and information literacy skills. These skills should be used with at least one specific assignment, rather than a general skills overview. While the assignments are left to the discretion of the instructor, we strongly recommend the following:

  • Enroll your Library Liaison into your Canvas course
  • Discuss assignments with your Library Liaison
  • Schedule library instruction with your Library Liaison to work on a tailored assignment or to provide general library resource instruction
  • Assign the Library Research Tutorial to help students learn about library research, information literacy skills and plagiarism & citing sources

The following resources can help instructors design assignments:

An assignment may include:

  • Research using library databases
  • A critique of internet searches
  • Pre-tests and post-tests of information literacy
  • Media projects and/or presentations instead of or in addition to research papers

Teaching Difficult Texts

Workshop QuestionsPreview the documentView in a new window (2/16/15)

Example questions: Bob Dylan's "John Brown"Preview the documentView in a new window (Herren)

Small group ideasPreview the documentView in a new window.  If fifteen students isn't small enough, you can break down the class into small discussion groups. Here are suggestions on how. (Yandell and others)

Taking minutesPreview the documentView in a new window.  Each student can be responsible for taking minutes on the class discussion and report the minutes during the following class. (Brownlee)

How the rules of improv Preview the documentView in a new windowcan apply to class discussions, from Tina Fey's Bossypants (from O'Leary)

Model of Oxford Tutorial method (from Colella)

Paying AttentionPreview the documentView in a new window: Montaigne's library as a model for creating our spaces to read and reflect, from Sarah Bakewell's How to Live


Example Assignment: Personal essay with family photographsPreview the documentView in a new window, including peer review questions (McFarlane Harris)

Performances Tasks: In a performance task, student use multiple sources to craft an argument. Basic guidelines here (Braun).Preview the documentView in a new window  Two examples:

Assessing Core 3a: Assignment Ideas

In 2017-2018, FYS will conduct a program-wide assessment of Core 3a:

Core 3a: Identify and critically assess multiple dimensions of an ethical issue in an attempt to reach a conclusion. In FYS, this includes***:

  • Interpreting challenging readings.
  • Employing effective library research and information literacy skills.
  • Constructing arguments supported with evidence.

The assessment is two-pronged: faculty will assess their students' success achieving this SLO based on their own, individual assignments. They will submit this assessment using a rubric available via Qualtrics (link coming soon). Below are some assignments that FYS faculty have developed to help them assess this SLO.

The Greater Good

"Learning and Living Magis"--Marcus Mescher (Theology) wrote this piece about magis. He was inspired to write about Magis in part by his experience teaching FYS. Reading and discussing this can help promote a consideration of the greater good in the context of our Jesuit values. 

Classroom Policies

FYS does not prescribe classroom policies on attendance, participation, etc.  However, during the course of our workshops, faculty offered a number of suggestions.

Attendance policies can be used as a tool to acknowledge students' choices as adults and to help you communicate to them that you are concerned when they miss class.

Laptop and device policy (from O'Leary)

Exam period: Many (if not all) FYS courses will have a final project in lieu of a final exam.  What to do during exam time?

  • Oral presentations of a final project
  • Class conversation about their first-day-of-class goals for the course

Vocation and Mentoring

College as a path to vocation

One way to consider vocation is to get students to think carefully about the purpose of pursuing higher education. Separating students from thinking solely about college as credentialing can help them consider all the ways to learn and grow while they are at Xavier. This conversation can be supported by attendance at Spark: the First-Year Seminar's Call to the Greater Good and a follow-up discussion. You might also consider these readings:

"What is College For?"Preview the documentView in a new window (from William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep)

"What is the Point of College?" (Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times 8 September 2015)

"The Tune-Up that Every First-Year College Student Needs" (Deborah J. Cohan, Psychology Today, 16 July 2017)


There are also a number of excellent readings that directly address vocation. Several of these are linked or attached below.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation  (Parker J. Palmer)

A catalyst for conversation may be the question "Who are you now?"  This question asks students to think about personal interests, skills and development, a broader conversation than a job search.


Recommended: Katharine Brooks, You Majored in What? Mapping your Path from Chaos to Career (New York: Viking, 2009). You might use a chapter from this book as an alternative for students who can't make it to Spark.

Reflective and Meta-cognitive Assignments

Classroom Assessment TechniquesPreview the documentView in a new window: One-minute assignments to assess student understanding (Angelo and Cross)

Cognitive WrappersPreview the documentView in a new window: Metacognitive assignments to help students reflect on their learning (Bowen)

Campus Issues

Alter Hall User's GuidePreview the documentView in a new window (draft): If we use the building properly, it could use as little energy as a building with no HVAC. Ideas here on how to engage with and take ownership of Alter.

Video on Alter Hall