Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Feedback & Grading > Low-Stakes Assignments

Low-Stakes Assignments


A student smiling during class
Low-stakes assignments are forms of evaluation that do not heavily impact students’ final grades or other educational outcomes. The purpose of low-stakes assignments is to provide students with an indication of their performance while taking a course and give students an opportunity to improve their performance prior to receiving a final grade, either on an assignment or in a course. 

As Vincent Tinto writes in Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action (2012), "To be effective, assessments must be frequent, early, and formative." At colleges and universities recognized by the National Survey on Student Engagement for their success in promoting student's active engagement in their learning: "Feedback from faculty to students is timely and frequent, as documented both by NSSE data and by interviews with students and faculty members" (Kuh, et al. 2010).

Low-stakes assignments tend to work best when they generate formative feedback regarding where students are in the course, what they are doing well, and where they may need development to ultimately succeed in the class.  At DePaul, there is a general expectation that students will be given feedback early in the quarter or term, and low-stakes assignments are a powerful method of doing so. 

For students in their first year, whether as freshmen or transfers, such feedback is especially important in order to help them understand the expectations at DePaul. Early feedback also enables faculty to use DePaul's BlueStar system to identify students who may need additional assistance and share that information with the students and their academic advisors. 

Benefits of Low-Stakes Assignments

Low-stakes assignments

  • Give students a realistic idea of their performance early in the term, enabling them to seek appropriate resources as needed
  • Open up lines of communication between students and their instructors, and may increase students' willingness to ask for help
  • Provide feedback for instructors on how well students are absorbing information and progressing in their skill development
  • Allow instructors to direct students to resources if they need further assistance or support
  • Give students an opportunity to be active participants in the evaluation of their own learning
  • Increase the likelihood that students will attend class and be active and engaged

Low Stakes-Assignments in Online and Flex Modality Courses

While all classes can benefit from frequent low-stakes assignments, it's especially important in online and Flex modalities. In a face-to-face classroom, instructors may assess student learning in informal ways using nonverbal cues—a puzzled look or an affirming nod, for example. In a online and Flex courses, instructors may have more difficulty picking up these cues from students, especially if they don't always have their cameras on or you're not meeting synchronously. In Flex classes, it can also be more challenging to pick up on nonverbal cues among in-person students if also trying to monitor engagement and participation among remote students at the same time. ​​

D2L Tools for Low-Stakes Assignments 

​D2L tools will help you to implement low-stakes assignments in all types of courses and course modalities.


Quizzes are often used for multiple-choice or other objective question types because they can be graded automatically, allowing students to get feedback immediately. For low-stakes assignments, you may want to allow students to review the questions and their answers after they take the quiz. You can set up Submission Views to allow for this. Instructors can also view quiz statistics to see if the class is struggling with a particular concept and review that topic with them. 


Discussions allow students to share short pieces of writing or other media with you and their classmates. They work well for sharing rough drafts or other early-stage components of larger projects for peer review or for certain journaling assignments. 


Submission folders allow students to submit work privately to you. You may be used to using Submissions for major assignments like research papers. For shorter, less formal pieces of writing, you can change the Submission Type to “Text” to allow students to type their response directly into D2L rather than uploading a file from their computer.

Examples of Low-Stakes Assignments

Though given less weight, low-stakes assignments may be similar in type and kind to high-stakes assignments: they tend to reflect the kind of work students are going to be expected to do for a final exam, paper, or other summative project.

Components of a Larger Project

When assigning students a writing or research project, break down the elements of the project and use one or more as a low-stakes assignment. Require students to submit their works-in-progress so that they can receive early written feedback and a small grade, which could consist simply of a check or check-minus. Any one (or more) of the following elements could be collected and used as a low-stakes assignment:

  • Prospectus or proposal
  • Abstract
  • Thesis statement
  • Outline
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Specific sections of the final project (e.g., introduction, methods, lit. review)
  • Early-stage drafts of a paper


Early Drafts and Peer Review

Midway through a writing project, have students bring a full or partial draft of their paper to class and then exchange feedback with a peer. Students will receive valuable feedback that they can use to revise their work.

Try providing students with a rubric to help them give their peers targeted, assignment-specific feedback. Also, consider inviting Writing Center tutors to your class to model how peer review can be conducted effectively.

Mid-Project/Quarter Conferences

Around midterm or during the planning stages of a major course project, ask students to meet with you for conferences. If the class is too large for you to meet with each student individually, assign students to meet with you in groups, or one-on-one with their TA. The conference time might be dedicated to discussing the students’ progress towards course goals or providing feedback on a particular project.

To get the most out of your conference time, ask students to complete and bring with them a self-assessment form or project proposal. Alternatively, ask students to write down one question they have about the course, content covered in class, or an assignment they are currently working on. Having a document to reference will keep the conversation on track and help put both you and your students at ease.

Group Work Planning and Reflection

When students are working in groups, require them to submit a statement outlining each group members’ responsibilities and/or a timeline that measures their progress. Periodically throughout the group project, ask students to submit short reflections detailing their progress and any areas where they need support.

Weekly Quizzes

For a course where exams are the primary means of summative assessment, give students a quiz at the end of each week with questions based on content covered up to that point. Although the quiz might not count for credit (or might only count for a very small portion of the final grade), it will give students an idea of what they already learned and which concepts they need to spend more time with. Quizzes can be paper-based, conducted during class using Polling or posted online in D2L Quizzes.

Class Problem Solving

In a course where students learn new computational or mathematical concepts, have a problem posted on the board or screen at the start of each class, or in a collaborative document. Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to find the solution. Spend part of class going over the problem as a big group, or review the problem in a short video.

Course Concept Journals

Consider having students keep a regular journal where they can engage with and apply course concepts. For example, in an Introduction to Political Science course, ask students to read the politics section of the New York Times and keep a weekly concept-application journal. For each entry, students should select one article that they read, summarize it, and show how the article demonstrates a theoretical concept discussed that week in class. Review students’ journals every other week or so and give each entry brief feedback.


Reading Journals

In a course where students are required to do weekly readings, assign a reading journal. Entries might require students to summarize and respond to the source, or to answer a set of questions provided by the instructor. Students can submit their journal entries through D2L, by handing in hard copies every other week, or by posting them on a course blog.

Short Writing Assignments

Give students a prompt that corresponds to a class reading assignment, concept, or activity and have them turn in a short written response. Return the students’ responses with your brief feedback, indicating whether the students are on track or not (a simple “check plus” or “check minus” could be used). In large classes where you might not have time to give individualized written feedback to each student, share and discuss one or two anonymous students responses at the next class meeting or in a D2L News item or weekly introduction. 

Discussion Questions

Post open-ended questions designed to promote engagement with the current course content or an upcoming project or assignment. Invite students to ask questions and identify areas of confusion, and answer the questions posted by their peers. See Facilitating Discussions for additional suggestions.  

Support for Low-Stakes Assignments at DePaul

  • University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL)

    Discuss how you can incorporate writing in a low-stakes assignment by contacting Matthew Pearson, Director of the UCWbL. You can also invite peer tutors to your classroom to demonstrate effective peer review before having your own students give feedback to one another. 

  • University Libraries

    If you’re interested in using an element of a research project as a means of giving early feedback to students, connect with a university librarian. University librarians can offer feedback and resources for designing research projects for students. 

  • Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)

    Have a question about integrating discussion forums in your classes? Not sure which platform might be best for setting up a course blog? Contact the CTL for help identifying and implementing a technology tool to help meet your goals. 

Further Reading

Angelo, T., & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. 

Bean, J. C. (1996). Engaging ideas: the professors guide to integrating writing,critical thinking and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J.S., and Whitt, E.J. (2010). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tinto, Vincent. (2012). Completing college: Rethinking institutional action. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 

Warnock, Scott. (2013). Frequent, low-stakes grading: Assessment for communication, confidence. Faculty Focus. Madison, WI: Magna Publications.