Pass The Buck

shared by ISUComm on August 18, 2014

Activity Summary:

This activity forms students into 5 groups to teach each other evaluation criteria, and to learn how to evaluate the degree of success of a sample funding proposal.



This exercise enables students to summarize orally the nature and purpose of content in a reading assignment so they can use the terms in their own writing and assessment processes.


This exercise mixes formalist expectations with collaborative learning methods. It also allows the instructor to adopt the guide, mentor, and facilitator roles as students participate in the evaluation process.


1) Getting Science Grants, by Thomas Blackburn

2) Paper for taking notes on the reading and on the sample

3) Sample pages from a funded or unfunded proposal.

For efficiency’s sake, either a) groups could be given an abstract and/or problem narrative from a proposal or b) each group receives a different section (or two, depending on length) from the same proposal. Option A provides a norming sort of experience at the expense of evaluating a full proposal, whereas Option B provides students with a simulation of the actual process by which funding proposals are ranked (i.e., by section). If an instructor chooses Option B, then groups should be given the full proposal, and each group must provide a brief overview of their section, and then other students can read along as each group evaluates their section.

Teacher Notes

It is always fun to use samples that don’t fit neatly into one category. That way, groups challenge each other to accept the sample’s quality, and other groups can be called in to mediate.


This activity forms students into 5 groups to teach each other evaluation criteria, and to learn how to evaluate the degree of success of a sample funding proposal.
  1. Each group is assigned a rubric category from Chapter 5 of Thomas Blackburn’s Getting Science Grants, which provides students with evaluative language to evaluate the quality of writing in funding proposals: Train Wreck, or “Failure”; Pallid Bust, or “Fair”; Enemy of the Best, or “Good”; Almost There, or “Very Good”; From the Heart, or “Excellent”.
  2.  Starting with the “Train Wreck” category, each group presents the information in the assigned section to the rest of the class. The instructor asks questions about finer points from the section that students may have missed, or contextualizes the material by providing anecdotes from his or her experience.
  3. The group must then say whether the sample meets the criteria in their assigned section. If the sample does not meet the criteria, they pass the responsibility of evaluation, or “pass the buck”, to the next group. For example, considerations under the “Train Wreck” category include proposals that convey weak science, are out of date, or are do not meet eligibility requirements. The “Train Wreck” group must defend their evaluation before they can pass the buck to the next group.
  4. Each group presents the salient points from their section, and then evaluates the sample until a group is able to defend the writing quality as meeting the requirements in their rubric category.
  5. If a sample meets the criteria in a given section, subsequent groups must, in addition to articulating the content of their section, defend whether the sample fits in their category and not that of any previous group, or defend why it does not fit with the criteria of their category. For example, if a “Fair” sample is used, the “Good”, “Very Good”, and “Excellent” group is responsible for confirming the previous group’s evaluation (Passing the Buck) or challenging it as fitting into their own section (Taking the Buck) or Passing the Buck to the next group.