Motivate students to read the syllabus!

By Erin McKenney of North Carolina State University

Description #

The first assignment of each semester is to add five annotations to the class syllabus, one point per direct annotation or response to an existing comment, for a maximum of five points. This low-stakes assignment helps students practice using Hypothesis (and adding annotations to the correct class group!) and motivates them to read and reflect on the syllabus.

Over the years, student comments have made it clear that they appreciate this introductory assignment. Reading the syllabus (for credit) gives them insight to my teaching philosophy as evidenced by my course design, grading scheme and course policies. They also get excited to see the diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI) components woven throughout my course — starting with my “commitment to diversity and inclusion statement,” located at the very top of the syllabus.

Assignment #

I’ve listed the instructions and prompts that I add to the syllabus in advance, by highlighting the content / headers listed IN ALL CAPS below. I also read through the annotations after the due date, and respond to student comments to answer questions or clarify concepts. This assignment builds community, confidence and excitement about the course in the first week.


Post five annotations to the [COURSE NUMBER] — [TERM YEAR] group to earn five points for this assignment.

I have posted a few prompts to help you get started, though you are welcome to annotate any part of the document.

If the text has already been highlighted, consider Replying to the existing Annotation instead of creating a new one.

All five annotations should be thoughtful (and, thus, thought-provoking): vapid commentary (i.e., “cool,” “I know, right?”) does not merit credit.

Note: You can add tags to your comments!


Which of the learning outcomes of this course are most significant to you, and why?


I have tried to distribute assignments across the semester, but I recognize that life is busy and that this course is not your only commitment. Please review the schedule and make a note of any particularly busy times or scheduling conflicts.


We will meet during the final exam period.

Please make a note on your calendar now, to avoid confusion or conflict.


Which of the assignments are you most excited about? Which do you think will be most challenging, and why?


FYI: The 2020 collaborative assignment was to create notes for each unit, and in 2021 students wrote a blog-style post to summarize each topic with a few compelling examples. I have posted all of these resources on the Moodle page. In 2022, collaborative posts focused on examples specific to North Carolina, in alignment with our land grant mission.


FAQ: Are the quizzes timed?

A: The quizzes are not timed: You have unlimited submissions, but there is a hard deadline. (You must complete the quiz for a given topic before we start the next topic.)

This helps motivate you to stay current on course concepts as we cover them — this is particularly important as we scaffold knowledge across the semester. It also helps me determine which concepts might be “pinch points” for student understanding, so I can improve my teaching approaches.


I appreciate that there are many hurdles, barriers and stigmas associated with declaring a disability — and with getting that disability formally recognized and accommodated.

Please let me know any way that I can support you — regardless of your “official” status, and whether or not your needs are formally recognized by DRO.


Do you know about any other resources that I should include? Please reply to this comment to share them!

License #

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license