Creative Online Assignments

By Diana Clark

Keeping students motivated and engaged is challenging, yet critical, regardless of the assignment.

Online assignments have become increasingly popular among K-12 teachers because they’re made possible with widely used online learning platforms like Google Classroom. These types of assignments are also more engaging, getting students excited to research and share their knowledge.

However, not all teachers have access to these learning systems. If you’re one of those teachers, use these ideas to bring online homework assignments to your classroom.

1. Critical Thinking Question

With this assignment, students have to use the Internet to answer critical thinking questions. You give each student a different question and ask them to use and source their outside sources for help. For example, you could ask: “Pasta is a traditional food of which country?” While looking for the answer on the Internet, the students will discover that the home of this food is actually China and not Italy.

Have students save their top three resources and explain why they’re valuable as part of the assignment. This teaches them about digital citizenship and how to find legitimate online sources.

More:32 Digital Citizenship Resources for Every Teacher

2. The Biography

Assign students a biography of the person that inspires them—someone outside of their family and friends who they can research online. Students will use the Internet to find the answers, so they will have the opportunity to practice Internet research skills.

3. Dare to Disagree

Students have to take a widely accepted belief that they disagree with, finding online sources to back their arguments. They’ll practice skills of research and persuasion for this simple, but fun, assignment.

4. This Day in History

Students are asked to find events that occurred “on this day” in previous years. Each student can be given a particular year to avoid overlaps. The assignment ends with a short blog post or GoogleSlides presentation to give them even more technology learning time.

Students can use the following resources:

5. Online Discussion

In many higher education courses, students use online discussion forums every week, making a good skill for students to learn at a young age. You can use a tool like Twitter to facilitate your discussion. With a personalized hashtag for your classroom (Like: #MrsB2017), you and your students can track the conversation.

More:How Twitter Transformed My Classroom

6. Virtual Debate

This is a collaborative assignment that aims at engaging students in an active and meaningful way, as they process subject matter in a way that leads to applicable understanding. Virtual debates are more fun than traditional ones, even if the debate is only between two classrooms within the same school.

If you want to host your debate with another school in a different city, state or country, try Mystery Skype. Find other teachers that want to debate with the Skype Classroom teacher’s forum.

7. “How do we know it’s true?”

With this assignment, students do online research to uncover interesting facts that everyone knows about but can’t seem to explain. Each student is given a question to explain the next day; for example, “How do we know that the universe is expanding?” or “How do we know that climate change is happening?”

8. President for a Day

For this assignment, you will need a notebook, pen, and Internet access. Ask students to find out the responsibilities of the President and create a short video called: “If I was a President for a Day.” They’ll love coming up with their ideas and putting together a video that they can share with their friends and family.

More:How to Encourage Independent Reading With Video Creation

9. Chef

In this assignment, students are professional chefs that are about to open their own restaurant and need to create a menu. Allow students to select a cuisine and ask them to use the Internet to find the traditional dishes of the country they chose. This will help them to build language skills and vocabulary as well as engage in a fascinating world of cuisines.

10. Doctor

A doctor is one of the most important professions, and one that many students aspire to have. In this assignment, students select a type of doctor and find out which body parts they treat. Students then tell the class what they’ve found about their doctor, sharing three facts that they’ve found most interesting.

Remember to always offer a degree of freedom with every assignment to give the students more control of their learning process. They’ll be empowered to use the Internet to learn, research, discover and share thanks to these engaging assignments.

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Two Young Girls Using Laptop At Home

If you’ve yet to explore new tools for your online courses, now’s a great time to start. We’ve peaked in on some neat tools in these categories: Storytellers and Image Editors, Open Software Suites, Video and Movie Makers, and Audio Editors. Check out this list of comprehensive, powerful, and free tools waiting to enhance your online teaching.

Storytellers and Image Editors

# 1 SketchUp

SketchUp is a fast, fun, and intuitive tool for making 3D (or 2D if you prefer) models. You can make your own model or download what you need. This program lets you model with precision, apply colors and textures, work on terrain, and even benefit from applying Google Earth (view all features). And this program is also ready to support its users with tutorial videos and the handy SketchUp Getting Started Guide.

For example: Rodney Kazenske remodeled this home with specific criteria, like ensuring the addition didn’t look like an afterthought and redesigning the roof to create shaded areas in the backyard.

SketchUp helped visualize the final product in the exact context with existing surroundings; Click the image to view this project.

The ability to quickly analyze design changes and create various options in Sketchup led to some surprising discoveries and some creative solutions.”             # 2 GIMP Edit your photos with the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), a freely distributed raster editor that competes with other raster programs like Adobe Photoshop, Jasc Paintshop, and Microsoft Paint. GIMP is an ideal program because faculty and students can access this program on campus or at home.

Screenshot of the GIMP interface.

  You can use GIMP as a simple paint program; or use its advanced features to retouch photos and compose and author images. GIMP can even serve as an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, and an image format converter.

Example of GIMP’s photo enhancement features perspective distortion and barrel distortion.

Read about GIMP’s features and find answers in GIMP’s user manual. GIMP runs on many operating systems, including UNIX, Windows, and Mac OS.               # 3 XMindXMind is open-source software for mind mapping and brainstorming. The program’s free version is great–granting access to XMind’s diagrams, Mind Toolbox, and the ability to share your maps (download it here). Review XMind’s features and get ideas from the Mind Map Library.

Example of XMind interface and maps.

# 4 ScribusScribus is a desktop publisher–you can produce press-ready documents and benefit from the latest trends in page design. Scribus is open-source and works on Linux/UNIX, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4/eComStation and Windows systems. What makes this publishing program great: Scribus has a friendly user interface with professional publishing features like color separations, CMYK and Spot Color support, ICC color management, and versatile PDF creation. After downloading the program, be sure to check for any help on Scribus’s forums, answer specific tech questions on Scribus’s blog, or access Scribus’s Manual.

Screenshot of Scribus’s desktop publishing interface.


Office Software Suites

# 5 Apache OpenOfficeApache is open-source office software that includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, vector drawings and graphics, databases, and math function creators. Besides the price (free), what makes this office suite great is it can read and write files from other office suites, and it’s developed with a global approach (offered in many languages and for all common computers). Download Apache OpenOffice here. Read more about OpenOffice for Education, and find answers in OpenOffice’s Documentation Project, which includes resources like templates and user forums.   # 6 Google Drive Google’s version of an office software suite (like Apache OpenOffice above or Microsoft Office) includes apps like Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Apps Scripts, Drawings, and Fusion Tables. You can also create, open, and share files from other apps in Google Drive.

Click the icon to read about Drive’s apps


Video and Movie Makers

Compiling videos and making movies is easier than ever. With a camera or cell phone, you already own the required equipment to make such visual content. You can create videos by shooting moving video or stringing along a series of still shots.   # 7 Windows Movie Maker Windows 7 and 8 users should start shooting their blockbusters by downloading Movie Maker.

Screenshot of Movie Maker interface.

  You can add photos and footage from your PC or camera into Movie Maker, then fine-tune your movie with edits like speed timing and adding audio. And so your movie looks polished, Movie Maker automatically adds transitions and effects. You can share your videos easily on social networks, YouTube, or by simply sending a hyperlink. Windows XP users should download Photo Story 3.# 8 iMovie Apple OS users should use iMovie to create videos and share them. iMovie is a great editor as well as a full-screen video-watching interface that houses all your videos. As an OS product, iMovie already comes with a clean, simple-to-use structure. Plus, you can drag-and-drop your film, combine still shots with moving action, fix shaky videos, and even make movie trailers!

Screenshot of iMovie interface.


Screenshot of making an iMovie trailer.

# 9 Jelly Cam Here’s a simple video maker worth trying. With Jelly Cam, you create stop-motion films with snapshots from a webcam, stored images, or clay (yes, claymation!). You can also add music, and export for YouTube. Jelly Cam is for Windows or Mac. Watch this quick start tutorial for Jelly Cam.

Audio Editors

# 10 AudacityAudacity is an easy-to-use and multilingual audio editor and recorder. With Audacity, you can record live audio, convert tapes and records into digital format, edit sound files, cut/copy/splice/mix sounds, and more (view all Audacity’s features). This program works on many operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux.

Screenshot of Audacity program on a Mac.

# 11 GarageBandGarageBand is an interactive experience to making and editing audio. Among its myriad features, GarageBand lets you plug in your guitar or keyboard to play directly into the program, access any instrument, write and share a song, record/mix/master your music, and export your songs into your iTunes library by various formats.

GarageBand’s interface and onscreen keyboard

  And learn to play music in GarageBand. Learn the basics, learn from your favorite artist, and get instant feedback on your own recordings.

GarageBand’s Artist Lessons (left) and a Chord Trainer during a guitar lesson.


Share Your Experiences

Tell us how you’ve used these tools in your course.  Have these tools helped your students express their work better than traditional paper or essay methods? Share with us in the comments section below.


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