Whether you are teaching a first-year writing course, a writing-intensive seminar, or any course that requires students to write, you can help students engage with course content and improve their writing by framing classroom discussions around writing. These activities can take as much time as you want: you can assign them for homework, dedicate 5 minutes of class discussion, or build an entire class around any of these tasks.
Discuss assigned readings as writers
Choose one or more of these questions to initiate class discussion or wrap up a conversation about a text.
- Who is the intended audience? How do you know?
- What is the purpose of the text? What is it trying to accomplish?
- What is the context for this text? How might readers encounter this text?
- What conventions shape this text?
- How is the text similar to other texts assigned in this course? How is this text similar to types of writing you have been assigned?
- How does the writer use evidence?
- What is the writer’s style?
- What does this writer do that you might imitate? In what context?
Ask students to generate genre conventions for an assignment
To prepare students for an assignment, help them understand the conventions of the assigned genre, such as a book review, lab report, or a research paper in your discipline, by asking them to characterize the range of possibilities that shape that genre.
Ask students to read 3-4 examples of the kind of text you would like them to write. You might ask students to review texts already assigned in the course, or you can give published/aspirational models or student examples or a mix of both. Have students work in pairs or small groups to describe what the texts share in common (how the writers use evidence, how the text is organized and structured, what citation style is used, etc). Ask students to report back to the class on what genre conventions they discovered. As a whole class, and with instructor input, develop a list of conventions for the genre assigned.
Focus on one writing issue at a time
When designing a writing assignment, identify the one or two things you want your students to learn.
Bring in a model example, and ask students to apply the moves the writer makes in the model example to their own writing. For instance, if you want students to improve how they use evidence, bring in a passage from a text that uses evidence well. Ask students to characterize how the writer uses evidence, and then give students 10 minutes to look at a passage in their drafts and make changes based on how the model writer uses evidence.
Have students work collaboratively to practice developing disciplinary arguments
From John Bean’s book Engaging Ideas, this activity helps students practice ways of thinking and arguing in your discipline. You might do this activity to illustrate disciplinary practices or to help students prepare for a writing assignment.
Provide students with a question from your discipline in which there is no single right answer, and ask students to work together to arrive at an answer to the question. Student groups share their work with the whole class, while the instructor provides commentary on the limits and possibilities of the responses, as well as how experts might address the question.
Compare writing styles
Help students understand how audience shapes the presentation of evidence.
Find a newspaper article that addresses an issue or question related to your subject or discipline. Ask students to compare the style, structure, and use of evidence in the article to an essay assigned for your course. Ask students to consider how the audience of each piece shapes the writer’s moves.
Looking for ways to get your students to write more? Check out our Incorporating Low Stakes Writing Resource Page for ideas on how to incorporate quick writing activities during class or for homework.