4.5 Clear and Concise Instructions

Provide instructions for each course activity. Instructions should be complete and specific.

Instructions can be provided in text, captioned audio or video.

Points: 2 (Very Important)


Students may sometimes struggle or fail on activities, assignments, and assessments. Some of the issues preventing their success can be reduced or eliminated with clearer instructions.

Transparent Teaching

The Transparency in Learning and Teaching project conducted large-scale research studies that showed improvements in student learning, employer-valued skills, and academic self-confidence when assignment purpose, tasks, and criteria for success were included and made more clear.

The Transparency in Learning and Teaching site has guidance on making your course activities, assignments, and assessments clearer to your students, including a Transparent Assignment Template and Checklist. The template includes these sections:

  • Purpose
    • Define the learning objectives, in language and terms that help students recognize how this assignment will benefit their learning. Indicate how these connect with institutional learning outcomes, and how the specific knowledge and skills involved in this assignment will be important in students’ lives beyond the contexts of this assignment, this
      course, and this institution.
    • Skills
      • The purpose of this assignment is to help you practice the following skills that are essential to your success in this course / in school / in this field / in professional life beyond school:
    • Knowledge
      • This assignment will also help you to become familiar with the following important content knowledge in this discipline:
  • Tasks
    • Define what actions the students should take. Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs may be helpful. List any guidelines or a recommended sequence for students’ work. Specify any mistakes to be avoided. If there are sound pedagogical reasons for withholding information about how to do the assignment, protect students’ confidence and sense of belonging with a purpose statement something like this: “The purpose of this assignment is for you to struggle and feel confused while you invent and test your own approach for addressing the problem…”
  • Criteria for Success
    • Define the characteristics of the finished product. Provide multiple examples of what
      these characteristics look like in real-world practice, to encourage students’ creativity and reduce their incentive to copy any one example too closely. Engage students in analyzing multiple examples of real-world work before the students begin their own work on the assignment. Discuss how excellent work differs from adequate work. This enables students to evaluate the quality of their own efforts while they are working, and to judge the success of their completed work. It is often useful to provide or compile with students a checklist of characteristics of successful work. Students can also use the checklist to provide feedback on peers’ coursework. Indicate whether this task/product will be graded and/or how it factors into the student’s overall grade for the course. Later, asking students to reflect and comment on their completed, graded work allows them to focus on changes to their learning strategies that might improve their future work.



The bottom of the transparent teaching site has several examples of transparent assignments. Here is part of one example:

Original Research Poster Reading Assignment Instructions

Read through your example scientific poster and answer the following questions.​

More Transparent Introduction to Research Poster Reading Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to analyze an existing scientific poster. This will increase your familiarity with how scientific posters are constructed and will help you later in the course when you research, design, and create your own effective poster with sufficient scientific evidence that supports your conclusion. As a result of completing this assignment, you will be able to identify the sources of scientific information, interpret the results, and critically analyze the scientific merit of the conclusion of an existing scientific poster. ​




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