As an instructor, you may require your students to complete a written assignment, which may be short-answer style or a fully researched academic paper. You’ll develop a prompt any time you want your students to complete a written assignment. Along with this prompt, you will want to create a rubric, which has the dual benefit of helping students to understand how they will be graded and helping you to grade fairly and accurately.

Prompts and rubrics can be short and simple, or complex and detailed. The prompt and rubric you create for each written assignment will depend on the learning objectives that align with that assignment.

Review the information below to help you develop an Assignment Prompt and a Rubric.

What is an Assignment Prompt?

An assignment prompt is a set of instructions for a written assignment. It gives students topics or questions to then address in writing. The assignment prompt gives students a starting point for what to write about, and often provides expectations for the written work.

What is the purpose of an Assignment Prompt?

The purpose of the prompt is to provide students with clear understanding of an assignment, easy-to-follow directions for completing it, and to set the expectations for the assignment.

Who is the audience for an Assignment Prompt?

An assignment prompt is written for students. This means that the language and style should be appropriate for your students.

What is the preferred/appropriate language and style?

Since assignment prompts are written for students, use language that your level of students can easily understand and follow. The tone should reflect the seriousness of a graded written assignment.

Prompts should provide all the information a student would need to begin developing their response or paper without burdening students with too much information. Be complete, but be concise.

How should an Assignment Prompt be organized/formatted?

  • Avoid writing multiple lengthy paragraphs for an assignment prompt.
  • Chunk the assignment prompt into short paragraphs or one line directives.
  • Utilize a bulleted or numbered list whenever appropriate.
  • In a lengthier assignment prompt, use section headers to divide areas of distinct information.

What should be included in an Assignment Prompt?

  • Include the context for the assignment: how it relates to the unit being studied and how it relates to the learning objectives or the overall purpose or significance of the assignment.
  • Include all tasks needed to successfully complete the written assignment. This may include what reading or research is needed, how to structure or format the writing, the length it should be, and assessment criteria.
  • Include the due date and how to submit the assignment for grading.
  • You might include a list of what to avoid or other cautions for students.

Additional tips for writing an Assignment Prompt

  • Consider the learning objectives for the unit and which ones you’d like to assess in this writing assignment.
  • Anticipate questions your students may have and answer those in the assignment prompt.
  • Use direct, clear language. Vague and unclear language will only lead to student questions or student assumptions.
  • Consider providing resources that can help a student, such as a link to a citation manual, or a specific writing guide or sample.

What is a Rubric?

A rubric is the evaluation and grading criteria created for an assignment, especially a detailed assignment such as a written assignment. A rubric will indicate what the instructor will look for in the submitted assignment to assess if students have met the assignment expectations and learning outcomes. This may include application of course concepts, addressing parts of the prompt, use of sources, writing skills, formatting, etc.

Who is the audience for a Rubric?

The rubric is created for your students and for yourself, the instructor. This means the language and tone should be appropriate for students.

What is the purpose of a Rubric?

The purpose and importance of rubrics for students is to allow transparency of the assignment expectations. Students will know exactly what is expected and how the evaluation and grading will be done. This helps to eliminate student questioning of grades.

Rubrics also help instructors to assess student learning during the grading process, making grading less subjective and more objective. A rubric removes the likelihood of grading based on effort or bias. The rubric helps you to grade consistently for each student and each paper. It can also make grading more efficient, saving you time.

What is the preferred/appropriate language and style?

Use language that your students will understand. Avoid pedagogical terms that students may be unaware of. Be concise—a rubric should be scanned quickly to see the grading expectations without having to read at length for this information. Provide only as much detail as needed.

How should a Rubric be organized/formatted?

  • Rubrics are often formatted as a table using Microsoft Word. You should include both columns and rows. See the sample Rubric below.
  • You might limit grading categories to 5 or fewer. This will make grading more efficient.
  • Rubrics can be organized by most important to least important grading requirements or to follow the order of the paper itself, such as introduction, body paragraph content, etc. 

What should be included in a Rubric?

  • Include each category the student will be evaluated on as the first column. Try limiting this to 5 or 6 at most. This may include application of course concepts, addressing the multiple parts of the prompt, use of sources, writing skills/errors, etc.
  • Include the percentage or points possible for each category. Leave room in this area to input the student’s score, or create a separate column for this.
  • Include an explanation of what should be met for each evaluation category. You might include a column for each skill/performance level for each evaluation category. For example, what must be accomplished to show excellent performance in a graded category? What is lacking to cause a student to receive a lower score and category? Alternatively, include a single explanation of what must be met for each evaluation category, and include a comments area for you to explain how the student performed in that area.

Additional tips for Writing a Rubric

  • Align the rubric with the learning outcomes for the assignment to effectively evaluate whether students have met those learning outcomes.
  • The more performance levels on a rubric, the more precise a grade will be. Having “Excelling, Good, Sufficient, Developing, and Absent” would bear a more precise grade than merely “Great, Average, Bad.”
  • Generalized rubrics can be used for multiple assignments. For example, you might have a single rubric you use for all short-answer assignments. Highly detailed and customized assignments may require an assignment-specific rubric. 
  • Use your rubric to help you make needed adjustments to an assignment. Make adjustments to your rubrics as you see a need for it.
  • There are many types of rubrics available for download online or through your peers. Try a few rubric styles to see what works best for you and your assignment prompts.