From what I have seen, many graduate level courses (in physics) in the US involve the submission of a term paper for a large percentage of the overall grade.
Wikipedia talks about term papers as:
A term paper is a research paper written by students over an academic term, accounting for a large part of a grade. Term papers are generally intended to describe an event, a concept, or argue a point. A term paper is a written original work discussing a topic in detail, usually several typed pages in length and is often due at the end of a semester.
While the description is fairly self-explanatory, it doesn't talk specifically about graduate courses.
Is original research expected in the term paper? An answer here seems to indicate that this isn't the case for undergraduate courses. Is this statement applicable for graduate courses as well?
If these are not much more than a term paper, then one person can probably do this by putting the assignment together on paper or in email and only answering questions during normal office hours. These kinds of assignments have clearly articulated goals and guidelines and apply techniques as laid out in lectures and homeworks.
Alternatively, is the term paper supposed to be like a short literature survey/literature review?
If I understand correctly, the student is usually free to choose a topic of his/her choice provided it is approved by the instructor beforehand. Sometimes, the instructor may also suggest a list of topics with references.
I'm primarily interested in answers relevant to physics courses.