Beyond exams and essays: Creative methods of assessment in the Department of Languages and Cultures

Our students have just finished choosing their modules for their second and final year, and one question they often ask when selecting their modules is ‘how is this module assessed’? This is also a question that prospective applicants often ask, so we wanted to showcase in this blog post some of our more creative methods of assessment. We are proud of our innovative assignments, which enable students to develop their skills in many different areas, so we have asked our Programme Directors to give us some recent examples of assessments for Spanish, German, Italian, French and comparative modules!


In this first post we cover some examples of recent creative forms of assessment used in our comparative modules. Comparative modules compare and contrast the history, literature, cinema…produced in different cultural spheres, bringing them together in modules such as Greats of European Cinema, Comparative Literature, Society, Thought and Art, or Language and Power, to name only a few.


Our comparative modules involve exciting methods of assessment, for instance for the module “Language and Power”, a radio show on language and migration was recently designed, written, and conducted by the students enrolled in the module. The whole module had been designed around this outcome, and therefore all lectures were delivered in preparation for the show. Before going on air, students received a 2-hour training at Junction 11, the University digital radio which hosted the show. A series of five 50-minute shows (Voicing the invisible(s)), on 5 different topics, went on air, involving all 25 students of the module. By working with a professional equipment, students could include sounds, songs, interviews and live feedback in their shows, and had to carefully mix up solid research-based content with some more “entertaining” material. It was such a success that some students designed and presented their own radio show after this experience. As one of the students wrote: “This project taught us and gave us a lot, and such opportunities to flourish are surely what education is all about”.


Another innovative method of assessment was the project Who wants to become… and editor? How to transform a classroom in a publishing house, for the module ML2LLM “Literature Language and Media”. Over 10 weeks in the Spring Term, students designed, wrote, edited, and managed to publish a 96-page book entitled Behind the Screen. Social Media through the student eye. The class was organised as a publishing lab. Week by week, invited guests introduced as to book design, book editing, proofreading, book marketing, etc. Students then decided a topic they wanted publish on, and took a role: most of them became authors (of chapters), then we had 2 assistant editors, 2 iconographers, 2 proof-readers, 1 production manager (in charge of getting in touch with the printer, i.e. the Department of Typography), 1 event manager (to organise a book launch), etc. It was like the big game of writing and publishing, but we ended up with a collective book with 13 short chapters based on research, professionally designed by a graduate from Typography, and digitally printed in 200 copies. Students left the module with 2 copies of the book each, to show what they are able to do, and with the feeling that when talking about books the combination of content and technical skills is not only possible, but almost necessary to understand the physicality and the complexity of books and book industry.

Beyond exams and essays: Creative methods of assessment in German studies

Our German section make wide use of different assessment formats which boost our students’ creativity, flexibility, promote dissemination of students’ research findings and work inclusively. Generally, coursework assessment offers varying tasks which allow students to play to their strength but also explore new forms of working. Thus Part 1 modules like Icons of Modern Germany base tasks on varying primary sources from East German schoolbooks to West German pop songs; students can choose between text question, contextualising visual materials or commenting on a song or poem; they can also decide to either write an essay or produce a poster.

This variety continues into Parts 2 and 3. For example, uur Word Formation module allows students to write a commentary as well as updated version on a dictionary entry. In the module on Romantic literature, students get the option to do a creative project which can consist of a translation, writing a (fictitious) letter or diary based on an author or literary character, or generate a series of drawings or paintings on some literary piece. The option to do posters which present findings to a wider public can be chosen in the German cinema module. This broad range of formats and opportunities to think beyond the usual essay, is also there in our language modules which offer portfolio assessment or video shooting in addition to tests or essays.


Beyond exams and essays: Creative methods of assessment in French Studies

In French, students on the module ‘How to Think in French’ (FR2HTF) carry out an assessment with the contemporary French publication Philosophie magazine. They are individually assigned a copy and are asked to locate a number of common expressions and figures of speech. This develops their analytical skills in a contemporary and varied context. The articles they read range from letters pages to cartoons, snippets of canonical texts to interviews with contemporary philosophers and cultural figures.

In the module ‘The First World War: Then and Now: students write a learning journal in which they are invited to reflect on how their understanding of a particular aspect or topic has evolved as a result of class discussions and of the independent research they have conducted. Students often choose to explore lesser-know aspects of the conflict, such as medical advances, the parallels between occupation (and resistance) in WW1 and in WW2, or the way the war was portrayed in children’s albums during the conflict.

As for our French language modules, in first and second year students complete a portfolio, a collection of creative and independent work showcasing their progress in French. It’s a great opportunity to receive personalised feedback on their accent and intonation (especially for shy students!), written expression, and other language skills.

For practising their French and keeping track of their learning, students can also test their grammar each week through easily-accessible online tests and in class, we like to do Kahoot quizzes. For beginners’ and intermediate levels, there are different forms of weekly formative assessments available to students: they can test their vocabulary with Quizlet via the flashcards that we have created, based on the topics discussed each week. They can also contribute to these lists by creating and editing their own flashcards.

Beyond exams and essays: Creative methods of assessment in Spanish and Latin American Studies

In Spanish our first-year cultural module ‘Icons of Spain and Latin America’ involves an assessment designed to help you understand what we’re looking for in university essays and how to improve your work. Students hand in their essay and we provide feedback, then the students use the feedback to develop their essay and resubmit it with a reflection on what they’ve done and how it’s helped. It’s great to be able to do this in the first year as you’ll need those essay writing skills all the way through your degree. It also helps you learn how to reflect on feedback and use it to improve your work (useful at university and beyond!). Students find this really helpful and often comment on how beneficial it was in the module feedback.

In our final-year module on dictatorships in South America, students take it in turn to write a blog post summarising the seminar reading and some questions they think it would be useful to discuss. This helps us to have really interesting discussions in the seminar, and students find the blogs are really useful resources for their revision.

In Spanish language, several of our modules have a ‘language portfolio’, where you submit activities throughout the year. Students create some of their own activities, so you can focus in on the areas of language learning you really want to improve (and let your creativity run wild if you like!). This helps you to work on developing specific skills gradually over the course of the year, which is important for language learning.

Beyond exams and essays: Creative methods of assessment in Italian studies

Our Italian section’s creative assignments enables students to ‘posterise’ their research! In several cultural modules we have embedded poster presentations, i.e. academic posters in A1 format which let students present a topic of their choice in a very effective, visual way. In “Poster presentations” sessions students bring their own posters and display them like in an exhibition, which is open to anyone. After the presentation students can keep their professionally-printed posters and take them to job interviews to show their ability to sum up information in a catchy way. It is a win-win assessment method. Teachers can transfer some presentation skills onto their students, and students do enjoy the visual appeal of their posters, which stay with them as a piece of evidence of a good quality and effective work.


In one of our Italian socio-linguistics modules, students recently edited a newsletter – entitled Reading Italians (where the plural is for signalling the linguistic variety of contemporary Italian). Financed by a small grant from the University Teaching and Learning Development Fund, and professionally designed by an undergraduate student of Typography (which could use the newsletter as the final project of her academic year), the newsletter was edited by two students from the module, and included several articles written by students to talk about their sociolinguist projects. Two issues of the newsletter were released (100 copies each): one to discuss ideas, and one to disseminate the results of the students’ research. Graphically stunning, the two issues were sent to all the Italian departments in the UK, to let colleagues and students from other universities what we were doing.