Honors Class Types and Teaching Ideas

Students can earn Honors credit Letters & Science courses in four ways:

  • Honors only (H) courses
  • Accelerated Honors (!) courses
  • Honors optional (%)
  • Green Sheets

Please see below for detailed information about each of these options.

These courses are either (a) limited to 25 or fewer students, or (b) contain a discussion section taught by a faculty member (the lecturer, and not a teaching assistant) that is part of a regular lecture. Examples of what makes Honors- only courses particularly motivating and challenging:

  • Students are asked to apply the materials learned to real-world situations.
  • Students are asked to synthesize knowledge and apply techniques/skills to new areas.
  • Readings come from articles and academic books instead of textbooks.
  • Readings are substantive and writing assignments have more depth and/or require secondary research.
  • Assignments include analyzing primary source documents or gathering unique data.
  • Projects are individual, research-oriented, and on an original topic.

These courses are not restricted to Honors students. They are taught at an accelerated level; they may offer a capstone experience at the junior or senior level in the major or a particularly rigorous first- or second-year course. Characteristics of such unrestricted Honors courses:

  • Students are asked to do more difficult problem sets or read more theoretical texts.
  • Students are asked to synthesize knowledge and apply techniques/skills to new areas at a faster pace.

When a course is offered with an Honors Optional component, students can select to “Take this course with Honors” as a way to enrich their experience in the course and help partially fulfill requirements for either an Honors in the Liberal Arts or Honors in the Major degree track. Honors Optional experiences should spark or leverage student interest, engage the student in course material more deeply, and invite student-driven learning without causing an undue burden on either the student or the instructor. Wherever practical, Honors Optional projects can educate about the value of research and facilitate connection-making between theory and application. Increased faculty-student interaction, even for a couple of hours a semester, and direct feedback is encouraged.

We strongly encourage these best practices when teaching a course with Honors Optional enrollment:

  • Include information in the syllabus about the Honors Optional project requirements or how/when students taking the course for Honors Optional credit should connect with you.
    • Note that students can add or remove the Honors Option through the Course Search & Enroll app without the instructor or Dean’s permission through the twelfth week of a fall or spring semester. Deadlines are adjusted for modular and summer courses.
  • Keep Honors Optional projects distinct from graded components of the course. Honors credit is earned on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis and should not negatively or positively impact the grade that a student earns based on the regular course expectations. More information about grading Honors courses is available on our website.
  • Provide options for projects or prompts for students to choose from, so that they may engage in a project (or multiple smaller projects) that leverages their individual interests.
  • When feasible, utilize group projects so that Honors students can collaborate and learn from one another.
  • Consider less traditional assignment formats such as a creative writing piece, a performance or a media project that applies course content or themes.
  • Encourage cross-disciplinary thinking, especially as it allows a student to explore connections between the course and their long-term goals.
  • Keep in mind that many Honors students will take Honors Optional courses outside of their primary areas of interest. Honors Optional courses are meant to provide students flexibility and opportunity for deeper academic engagement as they complete their Honors degree.
  • Alternatively, some Honors in the Major curricula require that specific courses in the major be taken for Honors credit. If you are uncertain whether this applies to your course, please check with your curricular representative.
  • If you have questions about how Honors Optional courses and credit differ from Honors Only sections, please do not hesitate to reach out to the L&S Honors Program at honors@honors.ls.wisc.edu.

Below are ideas that we hope can help provide guidance and inspiration as you design your own Honors Optional projects for students:

  • Ask students to attend campus or community events (departmental colloquia, shows, musical performances, guest speakers, visiting authors on campus, film screenings) and assign follow-up work such as a discussion with the instructor, a presentation to the class, or a written review.
  • Have students select a topic related to the course and create a public-facing tutorial or outreach material, such as a YouTube video or Wikipedia page.
  • Assign students to formulate a brief research proposal that outlines the justification and methodology for a project that they could do, if given more time.
  • Facilitate Honors student peer review or provide instructor feedback on drafts of student work; consider assigning earlier deadlines for Honors assignments to allow time for more robust feedback.
  • Assign shadowing or interviewing faculty about research that relates to a course topic to help students make connections to the campus research endeavor.
  • Assign students to interview professionals in the field or individuals with knowledge related to course topics, then have them share their experiences with the class, other Honors students, or you.
  • Have students write blog posts about course materials/issues or their own research on topics in the course.
  • Meet with students to discuss the background and design of the course and invite them to create a new activity for the class.
  • Facilitate Honors field trips to help students make connections between their surroundings and the theories that they are learning in class. (ex: Political Science Professor led a visit to the Chazen to see how artists portray dictatorships).
  • Have the students engage in service-learning opportunities relevant to the course and journal about the experience.
  • Encourage students to bring you their suggestions for a project that they would like to do (possibly in small groups, if sufficient Honors enrollment).

If you develop a unique and rewarding project, please consider sharing it with us so that we might share it with other faculty as they work to develop the curriculum. Ideas and inquiries can be emailed to honors@honors.ls.wisc.edu.

Green Sheets are independent, student-initiated Honors projects for non-Honors courses. In a nutshell, students develop a project to receive honors credit in a non-Honors course and must submit a brief proposal (250 words) to the Honors Program for approval before Honors credit can be awarded. Students must be in the Honors Program in order to complete a Green Sheet. Faculty are encouraged to consider students’ requests to engage more deeply in a course via this process, but faculty are not obligated to accept a student’s request for a Green Sheet.

Read more about Green Sheets here, including specific examples of student projects. 

Here are some general types of Green Sheet projects:


  • Students read selections from books and/or journals or an additional text that covers regular course topics in greater depth. Faculty meet with students from time to time to discuss these readings and have them give oral reports or write short responses.
  • Students relate current topics in the news to course material by meeting with faculty to discuss how each week’s headlines or articles related to course content.


  • Students research a topic and make a presentation in class or prepare a handout to be distributed to class members.
  • Students construct an annotated bibliography or write a research prospectus.
  • Students get involved in a research project or assist in activities and/or community service projects related to course topics.

Participating & Making

  • Students create something (a computer program, film, musical composition, podcast, website, short story or play).
  • Students prepare a model, demonstration or other visual aid for possible use in class.
  • Students learn to analyze data in the field you are studying (e.g., statistical packages or creating charts).
  • Students expand and improve a course project or paper beyond what is already required for the course.

Visiting, Listening & Watching

  • Students attend lectures, films, or departmental colloquia on a topic relevant to the course.
  • Students compare a theatrical or film production of a novel or play to the original story, or compare an interpretation of an event or person to reality.
  • Students visit laboratories or clinics to observe ongoing research or treatment activities and attend meetings of those involved in research.
  • Students visit museums or sites and discuss what they learned (e.g., analyze the physics of an exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, study a work of art at the Chazen Museum, or tour Dane County to study glaciated and unglaciated regions)