[If/when needed, this page archives other Assignment Types.]

5-MINUTE ESSAYS (aka. Quick-Writes)

In the last 5-10 minutes of the class period, the teacher (or a student) poses a question, problem or prompt. Students then freewrite (write without stopping) in response to the question, problem or prompt.

The aim of this writing assignment is to help middle school students (quickly) review the most information presented in during a class period. True to their name, 5-Minute Essays are completed with five minutes of a given class, but frequently in the last five minutes of a class period. They ask students to freewrite (write without stopping) on what they have learned in class that day, but also to share what questions and concerns they still have.

3…2…1 (aka. The Most Important Thing)

At the conclusion of an investigation, students are asked to write three facts they’ve learned, two terms they want to remember, and one question, concern or confusion they still have. Upon completion, the teacher might occasionally ask students to identify which of the three facts is likely the most important (significant) fact to remember.


Working with 6-12 teacher- or student-selected words and/or pictures from an upcoming investigation or reading, students (with individually, in partners, or in small groups) classify and group the words/pictures in any way they think they relate or go together. Peer discussion follows. At the conclusion of the investigation or reading, students are then asked to re-classify and re-group the 6-12 words/pictures if necessary.


Students examine familiar objects in ways they might have never considered before for the purpose of improving their “observation awareness.” These exercises also provides valuable opportunities for students to hone their observation skills, as well as extend their observations through the use of magnifiers and other devices (e.g., measuring devices).


Short writing assignments (500 words or less) that students complete in class. Some Microtheme examples include: writing a synopsis of a popular science article; choose an angle on a controversial topic and defending it; uncovering a thesis or general statement that gives meaning to a dataset either assembled by the class or provided by the teacher. Mircothemes are sometimes used as Classwork, at other times they are used as Homework.

The aim of this writing assignment is to help middle school students learn how to summarize information. According to the good folks at Visionlearning, microthemes are short writing assignments (500 words or less) that students usually do either in class or as a short homework assignment. Some microtheme examples include: asking students to write a 200 word synopsis of a popular science article; providing students with a contradictory proposition and having them choose an angle and defend it; or providing students with a dataset and asking them to uncover a thesis or general statement that gives meaning to the data.


The invention of Professor Paul Heideman, the Minute Sketch method is designed to teach students how to simplify new terms or concepts to a sketch that has everything necessary to capture the concept for them. Minute Sketches are designed to be drawn quickly (30-60 seconds!) so that a concept or term can be reduced to “essential elements” and held easily in the mind once it has been learned as a “single chunk.” Minute Sketches are intended to mobilize motor (or ‘kinesthetic’) memory in order to provide a second way of learning that is independent of word learning.


Also the invention of Professor Paul Heideman, the Folded List method is meant to help students develop faster and more accurate recall and application of learned material. The method trains students’ brains to visualize any concept as a model and connect it to key words. Although it takes much work and practice to learn and use the Folded List method, once mastered it can greatly improve learning while reducing study time–but it also makes studying science more interesting.


The aim of this writing assignment is to encourage middle school science students to communicate complex material simply, clearly, and engagingly. The guidelines for the assignment are simple:

1. Answer a question posed by the teacher in a way a 4th or 5th grader (9-11 years old) will find instructive, interesting, and maybe even fun.
2. Submit your final answer in a timely manner.
3. Answers can be submitted in writing, as videos, or as graphics (e.g., a comic or a poster).
4. Written entries must be less than 300 words, and videos must be shorter than 5 minutes.
5. Answers must be in English.
6. All written entries should be typed. Video makers must submit a typed script and/or storyboard.
7. Entries must be the original work of the person or persons submitting them. All sources of information used in the assignment must be formatted correctly and submitted in writing.
8. Team entries are allowed, but teams can include no more than two science students. The formation of a team requires the permission of the teacher.

Students should be sure to use the What Is…? grading rubric when creating their answer. Dr. Merritt uses grading rubrics both with points and without points.


The invention of Professor Paul Heideman, Assessment Analyses are designed to help students learn how to use already completed quizzes and tests to figure out how they might change their study methods. Effective analyses of assessments is one of the best study skills middle school students can learn how to do before they enter high school. Dr. Merritt’s Assessment Analyses are modifications of Professor Heideman’s six-step approach.