Tackling assignments

Written assignments can be challenging for students with language and literacy difficulties or other special needs. Here are some ways to help plan and produce a written assignment. Share these ideas and strategies with older primary and secondary students:

The requirements of written assignments and essays can be overwhelming at first. It is helpful to break down assignments into smaller, more easily achievable parts.

Assignment or essay writing can be broken down into these parts:

  1. Working out what is required.
  2. Making a rough plan or sketch of the assignment.
  3. Writing the assignment. This will be easier with a good plan.

Begin by working out what the question is asking:

First make sure you understand the question. This means understanding both the individual words and the purpose of the question. Think about the important points the teacher wants you to cover. The results of thoughts and brainstorming in this phase will often make a good introduction to the assignment.

Think seriously about the overall answer to the question: this will become the conclusion to the assignment. Be absolutely sure the information answers the question asked, and not another question which could have been asked or that you would have liked to write about.

Next gather the raw material

When starting to work out what the question is asking and what needs to be included in the answer, start to note any examples to support points included in the answer such as points in texts and quotes. Keep track of where the information came from for later referencing.

Write down anything important and any ideas you have as you go along. It is much better to have too much material and remove it later than to not have enough. Jot notes down quickly and roughly, as long as it can be understood later. You may wish to collect your ideas on cards or post it notes that you can move into order later.

Now make your plan

Your assignment must follow a well laid out plan to make it easy and enjoyable for the teacher to read. It must be structured and well thought through. For this reason start with a plan before you start writing.

A plan is needed because:

  • It allows you to write more quickly, and to concentrate on the way you say things
  • It focuses your thoughts on the essay question.
  • It gives you a chance to think through and develop your arguments.
  • It will help you to avoid repetition and confusion.
  • It will tell you whether you are ready to write or not (do you have all the information you need?).

An assignment should generally consist of an introduction, a main body of arguments arranged in sections (a number of paragraphs) and a conclusion.

Let’s start with the conclusion...

An assignment should always lead to a conclusion. It is a good idea to decide in the beginning what your conclusion is going to be (you can even write out the conclusion before you begin); that way you know what you are aiming for. If you need to you can always adjust or change your conclusion.

Arguments...

The way to begin making a plan is to think of all the reasons/arguments/aspects of the question which lead to your conclusion. Make a list of these arguments. Consider counter-arguments (the other view points), so as to show why your reasoning on a particular point is better than other possible ways of thinking.

Structure...

Once you have your list of arguments you can start to plan the structure of your essay. Each section of your essay – and therefore of your plan – should cover a different reason/argument/aspect of the question. Gather all the information you collected at the beginning and group it according to which argument each point belongs to. (This is where the cards or post-it-notes are helpful).

Your assignment will be better understood if the reader can follow your thinking in a logical way. Try to see if your arguments/reasons can be put in order so that each section builds on the one one before. When you come to write the essay, it is good to refer the reader back, at important moments, to points that you have already made. Each section of the essay, each paragraph of your text, should make the argument move forward.

Add flesh...

The list of arguments and the points in each section is now the basis of your plan. It is probably still quite basic and you need to add ‘flesh’ to it by adding to each section some of your researched material you have collected such as references and quotations. This still can be in a shortened form and you don’t need to worry about spelling and handwriting as long as you know what your notes mean.

3. Writing the assignment

Having drawn up a detailed plan, you will find writing much easier. Many students will now write the final version of the assignment straight away. There are good reasons, however, for writing a first draft, reading it through carefully, then writing an improved final draft. This allows you to improve the structure and style, to check whether the assignment is too long or too short, and to correct any mistakes. Using a computer is a good way to do this so you can spend your time and energy on working out what you want to say and how to say it the best way, rather than spending your time rewriting the same things over and over again.

The First Draft

Work closely from your assignment plan. Your first draft will test whether your plan works in practice. Don't rush the first draft or allow it to become a mess. This simply makes more work for yourself later. Make sure the reader knows why you are including each piece of information. Explain your points thoroughly remembering your reader doesn’t know what you are thinking unless you can write it down clearly.

When you write your paragraphs it is good to start with a statement about what you think and then back it up with your reasons and evidence from your quotes and examples. Don't be afraid to leave something out if it doesn't fit. Make sure everything you write is relevant to the question, accurate and clear. If you are not sure you are on the right track now is a good time to see if your teacher will look at it and let you know what they think.

The Review

Read through your first draft carefully and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you answered the question?
  • Have you done what your introduction said you were going to do?
  • Is the argument clear for the reader- does it flow naturally from one section to the next?
  • Is there a good balance between what you think and factual information (quotes/ examples)?
  • Are your general arguments supported by evidence (quotes and examples)?
  • Are there any errors of grammar and spelling?
  • Could the writing style be improved?
  • Has anything important been left out?
  • Does the conclusion show how you have answered the question? A conclusion should summarise what you have already said and should never add new information that hasn’t been covered in the body of the assignment.

The Final Draft

Find out from your teacher how the assignment is to be presented. Does it need a cover sheet? What information has to go on this cover sheet? Do all the pages need numbering?

It’s also a good idea to have your final copy ready a few days before it is to be handed up. Then you can put it down for a day and re-read it the day before it is due to be handed up and make further improvements.

Good luck with writing your assignments

If you are concerned about your child's language or literacy skills a detailed assessment and an individualized program suited to you and your child's needs will help your child to reach their potential. To see how a speech pathologist can help your child browse our website or contact a speech pathologist in your area. Research has shown that early intervention is most effective so don't wait to act if you are concerned.

Talking Matters has a range of free information and resources available to download from our website and useful links on our pintrest and Facebook pages to other useful sites.

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