Bad Assignment/Good Problem

Problem statements
Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20-30 minutes

This activity prepares students to deal with the poorly formulated assignments they will encounter in other classes.

You'll need some typically bad assignments like those your students are likely to encounter (compare/contrast, "read this and tell me what it says," etc.). Their topics should be relevant to your readings.

1. Using the assignments that match questions the students have seen before, give the whole class an assignment and have them brainstorm first a question and then a problem statement (condition plus consequences) that might motivate an argument in response to the assignment. Repeat the exercise until students get the idea.

2. Put students in small groups and give each group two or three assignments (different ones for each group). The groups convert each assignment into a question and then into a problem statement.

3. Reconvene the class to share the results. Have the class formulate a "dictionary" of what teachers really mean when they ask students to explain, discuss, compare and contrast, etc.

4. You can follow up this activity by creating for each new reading one or two typically poor assignments for the class to convert to problem statements.