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Explain-a-Problem Writing Prompts

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Description: Explain-a-problem writing prompts ask students to explain their calculations in their own words. These exercises force students to think more deeply about their numeric work, beyond simply “plugging and chugging,” and can range from short descriptions to longer, formatted solutions. These writing prompts are easily added to any standard calculation problem, often simply with the addition of the words “Explain your solution.” They could also potentially be turned into mini-instructional manuals for how to solve certain types of problems.

When useful: Explain-a-problem writing prompts are useful any time the instructor wishes for students to think more deeply about their calculations and problem solving.

Audience considerations: Instructors or TAs might ask students to explain their calculations as if they were tutoring a friend or another student in the course. They could also frame their answers as instructions that might show up in a textbook.

Assignment length: Can range from several sentences to several paragraphs or a page

Connection to “writing to learn”: By explaining a numeric process, students are more likely to understand the theory behind the calculation, articulate how that process works, and then be able to apply it to different contexts and real-world situations.


  • Explain your solution, such that another classmate can understand how to do this problem.
  • Create a diagram illustrating the steps and relationships that you used in solving this problem.
  • Explain the key equations involved in your solution.
  • Following the solution template provided, create a solution manual for this problem.
  • What are the assumptions you are making in order to solve this problem? How would the problem change if you did not make one (or more) of these assumptions?