This page provides two downloadable documents: a set of Low Stakes writing assignments, and guidelines for High Stakes writing assignments. The documents are available in .docx copies to allow for revision and customization. You’re welcome to take what you need, please keep the Augsburg logo intact (other downloadable logos are available here).

Click HERE to download a full set of sample Low Stakes assignment prompts.

Click HERE to download a set of sample High Stakes assignment guidelines.

You can learn more about the benefits of differentiating between low and high stakes assignments in Peter Elbow’s (1997) essay, “High stakes and low stakes in assigning and responding to writing” from Writing to Learn: Strategies for Assigning and Responding to Writing across the Discipline: New Directions for Teaching and Learning.


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 Low stakes writing is:

  • Free writing in response to a simple prompt
  • A simple, informal way to integrate writing in the classroom
  • “Low effort, high impact”
  • Easy to incorporate at the beginning or end of class
  • Low-stress, and typically involves little to no grading

Low stakes writing helps:

  • Describe, apply, and retain information
  • Explore and personalize ideas
  • Focus thoughts and questions
  • Demonstrate the value of writing as a part of the learning process
  • Informally engage each student in the classroom
  • Improve high-stakes writing
  • Efficiently assess student learning

A brief sample of low stakes prompts:

  • What do you already know about this topic that can guide your learning?
  • What have you learned from similar assignments that can help you succeed on this one?
  • Summarize today’s lecture in one sentence.
  • What do you feel like you learned today, and what lingering question do you have?
  • Write an email to a friend who has been absent for a week and explain what they’ve missed. Aim to be comprehensive rather than writing a list.

Click HERE to download a full set of sample Low Stakes assignment prompts.


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High stakes writing assignments:

  • Correspond to writing conventions in the discipline/genre
  • Are typically formal and academic in style
  • Develop over time through drafting and sequencing/scaffolding
  • Require conducting effective research
  • Depend on effective, close reading
  • Synthesize complex information
  • Are more sophisticated in thought and prose

Basic Guidelines

  • Regard writing as a process rather than a product
  • Clearly connect the assignment to course learning objectives
  • Provide students with a clear assignment prompt detailing expectations
  • Provide students with a rationale for those expectations
  • Articulate the audience for the writer (Experts? A publication? You?)
  • Use assignment sequencing/scaffolding (suggestions below and here)
  • Include opportunities for feedback and related revision
  • Provide effective feedback on drafts (suggestions here and here)
  • Grade using a clear assessment strategy, like a custom rubric
    • Review suggested rubric options here
  • Weight the assignment accordingly, usually assigning significant value in the overall course grading system
  • Assign value (i.e. a grade or other form of credit) to reading assignments

High stakes writing helps to:

  • Familiarize students with disciplinarity and writing in a genre
  • Describe, apply, and retain complex disciplinary information
  • Develop more advanced writing, thinking, learning, and process skills
  • Develop self-assessment and revision skills
  • Focus on developing depth rather than breadth
  • Improve higher order learning/thinking
  • Thoroughly assess student learning and content mastery
  • Teach students to handle competing information and develop thesis

Quick Tips

  • Make use of in-class peer review activities to help crowd-source feedback
  • Provide examples of previous work from students (with their permission) along with the original assignment description
  • Focus on minimal comments in the margins and identify 1-3 strategies for improvement at the end of a draft
  • Identify common strengths/weaknesses of the class and discuss those with the class as a whole
  • Identify successful examples of student work in class for discussion
  • Cover common mistakes in the original assignment description or when discussing the assignment, use low-stakes writing to reiterate the points
  • If you don’t have time to teach a writing topic, such as citation style, link students to effective guides

Key high stakes writing resources:

  • Harvard College Disciplinary Writing Guides
    • These writing guides are written for a student audience, they overview conventions of writing and conducting research in various academic disciplines across both the Sciences and Humanities.
  • MIT’s Open CourseWare
    • Search topically through hundreds of undergraduate and graduate courses by discipline or topic and access course syllabi, readings, and assignment documents.
  • Augsburg’s Suggested Link & Resources
    • This webpage provides guides to some of the best online resources for helping instructors incorporate writing curriculum into their classrooms. Links address topics such as developing learning objectives, designing assignments, approaches to assessment, writing instruction handouts, and tutorials on references and citation.

Click HERE to download a more detailed set of sample High Stakes assignment guidelines.