Category Archives: Low Stakes Assignments

Vocabulary assignment

I give students a list of relevant vocabulary words important to our work.  We are doing a unit on the environment and New York City now.  I ask the students to get into pairs or triads and write dialogues or trialogues if the word exists and then present them to the class.  Below is the list of words they have already encountered in their readings and should have looked up.  A  few I have already gone over with them, such as sustainablity since it has a specific environmental meaning.  This is the list of words.

  1.  sustainability
  2. resilience
  3. estuary
  4. current
  5. mitigate
  6. berm
  7. dune
  8. levee
  9. equity
  10. evacuation
  11. reservoir


Low Stakes Assignment

What are some strategies or low-stakes assignments you might use to teach your students what genre is, and how and why we move between genres in order to reach our audiences and achieve our desired outcomes? Try to think of strategies that you might be able to use online.

I tried to keep the strategies very simple by explaining what genres are then defining discourse community. Once we had clear definitions, I used several different genres to support a video about African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in particular. The video is short but it explains the origins, usage, phonetics, and grammar of AAVE. Afterwards, my next two (2) classes were dedicated to reviewing different genres that discussed the same topic, AAVE or/and dialects.

  • Youtube, AAVE
  • Journal article, Smitherman et al
  • Personal narrative, Dowdy
  • Speech, Cosby

Then students spoke about rhetorical devices, audience, purpose, and which modal was most/least effective. For class assignment/low stakes, I have them come up with three (3) discourse communities and they each would bring a different genre to the class discussion.

Considering genre in 1101

I’m working with an architecture course for my FYLC in the fall, so I’m thinking of this specific course for this assignment, but it could be easily abstracted for a non-FYLC course.

Low-stakes writing activity:

Part 1: Think of a building you’re interested in–either a specific building, like the Flatiron, or a building type, like a brownstone. Find an image of it.

Part 2: Spend about 10 minutes writing about the building, in whatever format works well for you, such as a freewrite, a brainstorm, or a bulleted list.

Part 3: Now imagine you’re writing about that building for an AIA guide, for a Time Out NY article, or for a Twitter thread. Transform all or part of what you already wrote into about 150 words in one of these 3 styles.

Part 4: Read someone else’s response. Reply to that response addressing the following: Which genre did they choose for Part 3? How did you know? What features did it have that helped you understand that? What else could they have added to make their writing fit the genre even more?

(If I were going to assign a low-stakes assignment to get students thinking about genre, I would want them to consider a variety of genres, and we might brainstorm a list of different genres we could compose in. But it’s harder to sequence this in an asynchronous class, so I would have a couple to get them started.)

Genre Awareness Low-Stakes Homework

I might have students do a post like the one below.

For todays post, you are going to find and analyze an example of a genre, or  kind of text,  with which you frequently engage.  Make sure to think about texts broadly::

“In academic terms, a text is anything that conveys a set of meanings to the person who examines it. You might have thought that texts were limited to written materials, such as books, magazines, newspapers, and ‘zines (an informal term for magazine that refers especially to fanzines and webzines). Those items are indeed texts—but so are movies, paintings, television shows, songs, political cartoons, online materials, advertisements, maps, works of art, and even rooms full of people. If we can look at something, explore it, find layers of meaning in it, and draw information and conclusions from it, we’re looking at a text. (

For your homework, post an example of the kind of text you have chosen. Then below the example, answer the following questions about your text:

  1. Why do you personally use these kinds of text?
  2. What kind of people seek out these kinds of text?  Why? (Here you might think about age group, interests, profession or professional aspirations, etc.)
  3. What do you see as the main elements of this kind of text, including the length, tone, format, organization, and other key features? Make a list.
  4. Where is this kind of text found? How is it made available for consumption?

Research Question and Reflection Assignment

Here is an assignment I found on the Arizona State University website.  I have modified it for my classes as we have been stumbling over the creation of our research/curiosity questions (in part because we have had so many holidays and missed classes….no complaints about that though)  Hopefully, this will help.  I plan on using this assignment this week.  

Download (DOCX, 10KB)

Active Listening as Metaphor for Active Reading

Tricia asked me to post about this.


Using Diane Senechal’s definition of active listening, I suggest using this as a metaphor for reading. Active listening involves nonverbal gestures. What about reading? Underlines and highlights are nonverbal signs. Thinking of questions to ask the speaker to prompt further explanation can be questions for discussion in class. The pause an active listener gives after a speaker finishes can be reflection after the reading has ended.

Debating Language Diversity

This handout sparked lively debate in the class.  I asked my classes to respond to which argument they found more persuasive and why.  We also examined what rhetorical strategies each writer employed, including what type of evidence each relied upon.   Students were really impressed with how Vershawn Ashanti Young’s response to Fish made sentence style itself into a kind of persuasive argument–a strong argument on behalf of language diversity and against the prejudices underwriting SAE.