Students develop a position on a topic, issue or problem related to the course material and write a letter to a newspaper, public official, or government body. The assignment involves two parts in which students first thoroughly research the topic and write a position paper. Then based on their background material, they compose a letter or brief for a designated audience. This might take the form of a letter to the editor, op-ed piece, or a piece written to a decision making individual or body (congressperson, local city council, etc.
I advocate a two step assignment in which students first do the background work to develop a position paper. This insures that they develop some depth of understanding of the topic and issues so that they can speak with some authority on the topic in whatever type of letter or brief they compose. The letter to the editor may not a suitable genre given that these are so brief. An op-ed piece is a more challenging genre and allows students to develop a thoughtful and well supported point of view.