What is accumulative sequencing?

In accumulative sequencing, students write in several genres, incorporating elements of their previous writing into each subsequent assignment to produce a final paper.

What do students take away?

Accumulative sequencing helps walk students through the steps of writing a mid-length (or longer) paper.  It also can be a useful introduction to some basic genres, or types of writing, in your field.

What types of courses does this work best for?
  • Accumulative sequencing can work in any course where students are expected to produce a final paper.
  • It can be particularly useful in introductory courses where students may need more support with their writing.

What are some common major assignments?

One common accumulative sequence is:

  • One or more Research Summaries that either explain original research findings or identify the arguments and supporting evidence within secondary sources.
  • One or more Research Analyses that incorporate the summaries and outline the strengths and weaknesses of the summarized research.
  • A Compare/Contrast Essay that explains the strengths and weaknesses of at least two sets of summarized research in relationship to one another.
  • A Literature Review that incorporates elements of the Compare/Contrast Essay along with other sources to provide an overview of the topic and identify avenues for further exploration.
  • An Argumentative Essay that begins with a condensed Literature Review and builds on the summarized sources (and others) to make an original argument.
How do assignments increase in difficulty?
  • Each genre of assignment requires more complex cognitive work than the last.
  • Each genre of assignment requires more adherence to the conventions of your discipline than the last.
How do I scaffold around it?
  • Accumulative sequencing is a type of scaffolding in itself, but there are several ways you can support students in their writing throughout this process:
  • Modeling research skills and practices can be particularly useful in accumulative sequencing.
  • This type of sequencing allows for meta-discussions about the uses and conventions of writing in your discipline.
  • Low-stakes writing assignments can help students think through the relationship between different sources.
  • Because revision is built into this process, it allows the opportunity for discussions and activities that provide students approaches to, and best practices for, revising writing.

For more low-stakes writing activities you can use to scaffold around your major writing assignments, please see our page Teaching Writing in Your Classroom.

What are the benefits?
  • Accumulative sequencing provides student writers with a great deal of support as they work toward a final paper.
  • It allows a number of opportunities for you to provide feedback and talk to students about the direction their papers are taking.
  • It provides students with the professional experience of engaging with one project for an extended period of time.
What are the drawbacks?
  • Students get locked into their topics fairly early in the semester. Although they certainly can change their topics, doing so may present some difficulty.
  • Because more advanced students may see the early assignments as unnecessary, this type of sequencing requires some thinking about how to provide students with models of real-world writing that limits itself to summary, for example, or to analysis (book reviews in journals from your field may be a good place to look for these models).
Where can I find examples of accumulative sequencing?

Here are two examples of accumulative sequencing, drawn from one of Dr. Byrnes’ FYS syllabi and one of Dr. Futamura’s Math syllabi. Please note that these examples contain only the description of the major writing assignments that appear on the syllabi and are not a full account of the writing instruction that takes place in these classes.