I assign two three-page papers on the first day of every semester. The guidelines are "pick a newspaper article from the list and write a review of it, applying what you've learned in this class."
One is due at midterm, the other is due by the end of the semester, but you can turn it in anytime.
It never fails, I always have someone who complains that they didn't have time to finish the second paper. Literally, ALL SEMESTER isn't enough time.