What is progressive sequencing?

In progressive sequencing, students work on one paper over the course of the semester.  The paper is broken into its constituent parts, and students write their papers one step at a time.

What do students take away?

Students learn the process of writing a longer research paper.  They are introduced to research skills and to the steps they’ll need to take to develop a longer project.

What type of courses does this work best for?
  • Progressive sequencing works particularly well for courses requiring a longer final paper.
  • This sequence may work well in either introductory classes that ask students to develop a sustained inquiry of a single topic or in higher-level or capstone courses.
What are some common major assignments?

There are many places where you might break a longer paper into more manageable tasks, but one common method of progressive sequencing is:

  • Students develop a topic.
  • Students write an annotated bibliography.
  • Students create a thesis.
  • Students create an outline of their papers.
  • Students write a rough draft.
  • Students write a final draft.
How do assignments increase in difficulty?

As students move from topic to final draft, they continually refine and complicate their ideas.

How do I scaffold around it?
  • Modeling and discussing research skills can be useful during progressive sequencing.
  • The step-by-step process means you can give students feedback as they build their papers.
  • It also may be helpful to have students do some low-stakes writing at various points in the semester so you can work with them on more surface-level concerns.
  • Progressive sequencing lends itself well to activities like thesis building or minipeer reviews that introduce students to disciplinary conventions.
  • Peer review fits nicely into a progressive sequence. 

For ideas on 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?
  • Progressive sequencing can break down a large paper into manageable parts for students.
  • It allows for guidance and feedback at several points in the writing process.
  • It teaches students a writing method that transfers well to other courses.
What are the drawbacks?
  • Since progressive sequencing focuses on parts of the paper process, rather than whole arguments (like accumulative or elaborative sequencing), if you don’t include low-stakes writing then you won’t read any paragraphs written by your students (outside of the annotated bibliography) until the rough draft, which generally comes near the end of the semester.  Although the outlining stage allows for intervention in ideas, if students have trouble with lower-level writing concerns, there may not be many opportunities for them to practice.
  • This sequence puts a lot of pressure on the thesis and outline steps. If students don’t get a chance to revise at these moments (or if they revise poorly), then their final papers may suffer.
Where can I find another example of progressive sequencing?

Here is an example of progressive sequencing, drawn from Dr. Rawji’s Chemistry Capstone syllabus. Please note that this example contains only the description of the major writing assignments that appears on Dr. Rawji’s syllabus and is not a full account of the writing instruction that takes place in the class.