Category Archives: Faculty Resources

Find posts on all types of writing for teaching and learning issues. Simply search your topic to find our top posts on that issue. Not finding what you’re looking for? Email to suggest a post topic.

Discussion Topic: Preserving a Language

Watch this amazing story of the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, a Native American language. She discusses her efforts to write a dictionary preserving the Wukchumni language.

Questions to consider:

What happens when a language dies? Who’s affected? What are the cultural ramifications?

In what ways are language tied to culture?

Does preserving this language benefit society?

Writing Curriculum

Curriculum Writing Quick Tips

  • One helpful strategy we have noted is to begin with the learning outcomes and to work backwards once you have solidly established them. Then, you can begin to build your curriculum with the end goals already in mind.
  • Your outcomes should be assessable. A strong action verb from Bloom’s Taxonomy works better than vague statements such as “Students will understand…” as “understanding” is difficult to measure.
  • Catalogue course descriptions should also be concise (around 50 words). We like to think of the course description in terms of purpose, method and outcome. First, what is the purpose of the course? What methods will be used to achieve that purpose, and finally, what will the outcome of the course be?
  • When choosing texts or designing units, keep in mind that you may not be teaching the course in 5 or 10 years. Therefore, the curriculum needs to be flexible enough to incorporate others’ ideas in the future. For instance, if one is designing a film course, several optional films may be recommended in a particular genre.
  • Finally, as with all writing, consider your audience. You are the expert in your field, yet you are often going to be writing to those who may not have your expertise. What do they need to know?


Link Your Syllabus to the Writing Studio

The Writing Studio can help you with writing projects for this class and others. Writing Studio consultants work with you one-to-one and assist you with brainstorming, developing and clarifying your ideas, organizing and structuring your work, analyzing, revising, and learning strategies for proofreading and editing. Walk-in and appointment hours are Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat 1pm-4pm, and Sun 5pm-9pm in C612. For more information or to make an appointment, visit the Writing Studio online at, stop by C612, or call (212) 217-3060.

Teaching With Writing

While formal writing assignments outside of the classroom can be excellent tools for teaching and learning, there are also ways to effectively use writing in the classroom. By building short, informal writing activities into your lesson plans, you can help students understand important concepts and think through complex material.  Since these writing activities are quick and do not require grading or “correcting,” incorporating them into your class does not require an extensive time commitment.  You may choose to collect these writing activities and use them to assess student understanding of course material, or you can simply ask students to read their writing out loud to the class to generate discussion.  Just five or ten minutes of class time spent writing can help students develop skills to comprehend and remember key points, make connections between reading assignments or lectures, and effectively express their ideas about what they’re learning.

Benefits of using writing in class:

 It helps students to learn and retain key concepts from the course, and to think critically about those ideas.

It helps students to develop communication skills that are valuable in any academic or workplace setting, and to learn the writing conventions of your specific discipline.

It helps you to gauge student understanding of course material and identify concepts that need more elaboration.

How to use writing in class:

There are a number of ways to effectively use writing in the classroom.  Below are some of the most common examples:

Freewriting and Focused Freewriting


Student Questions


You can use writing in class to:

Drive and focus discussion.

When starting a discussion, ask students to freewrite about the important points they remember from the reading assignment or previous lecture.

When students seem confused or frustrated by the reading assignment, ask them to freewrite about what they do understand about the reading and/or to generate questions they have about the reading.  Alternatively, you can ask students to write on specific questions related to important concepts in the reading assignment.  By asking them to write on the same questions at the end of class, you can also see how their understanding of the reading has improved and which concepts they are still confused about.

When a discussion seems to be going in several different directions, has gone off on a tangent, or is being dominated by just a few students, ask students to spend a few minutes freewriting about the key ideas brought up in the discussion or about what they think would be the most productive direction for the conversation to take.  This can help students focus the conversation more productively, and allows you the opportunity to redirect the discussion.

Reinforce concepts

Ask students to summarize the reading or lecture, share their summaries with a partner, and help each other fill in the gaps.

Ask students to record the steps of a problem or process as they are working through it. This can also work as a Write/Pair/Share, as students can help each other identify holes or weaknesses in their problem-solving processes.

Assess student comprehension

At the beginning of class, ask students to summarize the most important points from the reading or previous lecture.

At the end of class, ask students to summarize the most important points from the day’s lecture and/or to identify ideas they are still confused about.

Further resources for using writing in the classroom:

The WAC Clearinghouse: Examples of Writing to Learn Activities:

University of Richmond Writing Across the Curriculum: Write to Learn Activities:

Assessing/Responding to Student Writing

Assessment engages students in a conversation about course material and acknowledges when they have demonstrated effective communication, comprehension of ideas, and critical thinking. Assessment can improve learning and teaching because it provides an opportunity to establish what you value and how students can achieve course objectives. We encourage instructors to create a hierarchy of concerns, and to focus on these concerns, placing importance on the skills and knowledge the assignment was designed to develop.

When you consider student writing as part of an ongoing process, and offer questions to consider and suggestions for revision, students will learn from their writing and benefit from assessment. Keep in mind, response that focuses on less significant aspects of writing or the assignment increases the likelihood that a student will misunderstand the learning objectives. You are always welcome to work with the Writing Studio on the best ways to assess and respond to student writing in your courses.

While there are various formats of writing assessment, you may find them most beneficial when using two or more in conjunction. Below are definitions of some basic types of response:


A rubric is a grading tool that helps you articulate the expectations you have for an assignment, and the degree to which a student has met those expectations. A rubric is usually a grid, where the components of the assignment are listed next to descriptions of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable performance for each objective. Rubrics allow you to provide clear and timely feedback on student writing, but they are most beneficial for students when they are distributed before students begin writing, so that they may write with your specific expectations in mind.

Marginal Comments

Comments written in the margins and between the lines throughout the student’s paper are used to point out specific examples of effective and ineffective writing. However, marginal comments can hinder or prohibit elaboration and students may feel the comments are too vague or too scattered throughout the paper.

Personal Letter/End Comments

This type of response can highlight several major areas on which students should focus their attention for future writing assignments. It is also beneficial because it allows you to elaborate and fully develop comments. When using this type of response, it is important to be specific about what areas of the text you are responding to.

One-On-One Conference

In addition to handwritten comments, instructors may meet with students individually to provide oral feedback, answer questions, and discuss improvements to the paper, as well as assist in developing skills for future writing exercises. This format offers the most direct and detailed response, eliminating the confusion that may arise from written comments alone. Students appreciate being active participants in the revision and assessment process; the one-on-one conference ensures clarity and inclusion.

Peer Writing Workshops

A peer workshop is an activity in which students collaborate on their writing and ideas in pairs, small groups, or even the entire class. The goal is to provide class time for students to engage with one another and improve their own writing projects, as well as become skilled in review and revision.

What do student writers get from peer response workshops?

The opportunity to improve drafts before submitting for a grade. Addressing writing assignments in class encourages students to view their papers as a learning process, rather than a last minute final draft. The questions and comments peers offer each other in the workshop can enable them to deepen their approach and understanding of the topic and assignment.

An expanded idea of audience. Giving and receiving feedback in small groups allows student writers to enhance and widen their concept of readership. Without a workshop, they may believe their only reader is the course instructor. Hearing comments from a variety of readers may help them to revisit their original ideas of content and purpose to make revision decisions. This is more engaging and effective than just “making corrections” suggested by an instructor.

Practice in critical thinking and reading for revision. By recognizing issues in their peers’ writing, students can become more aware of problems in their own work, strengthening their ability to read critically.

Enhanced communication and collaboration skills. Discussing their writing projects with their peers can help students articulate themselves in the classroom and enhance their confidence in the discourse of the discipline.

A better understanding of the assignment and their progress. The workshop allows student writers to see how others are handling the assignment and decide for themselves if they are meeting the expectations.

Tips for running a successful workshop:

Reading aloud. It’s a good idea to have students take turns reading their papers aloud to each other as opposed to silently reading. Students will often catch many of their own errors, gain new perspectives, and generate fresh ideas by reading aloud. It helps them to see their words in a different way, similar to turning a painting or drawing upside down in a design critique. The act of vocalizing their words also helps students get over any initial shyness. You’ll need to require students bring a hard copy of their draft to class on the day of the workshop, either one copy if they are working in pairs, or enough copies for each member of their group.

Provide a rubric and/or questions to consider. Students who have not participated in a workshop may be uncertain how to provide feedback and appropriate comments. It’s easy to forget that students might not have a discourse for discussing “good” writing, and will revert to “I like it,” or “I don’t like it,” or stick to editing grammar and spelling. Providing a rubric or questions can ensure students stay focused on the bigger picture, and are addressing the larger issues in their papers, such as ideas, organization, argument, and support.

Set aside enough time. Workshops are not as effective when students don’t have sufficient time to read their papers and discuss them fully; they’ll be aware that the instructor does not take the workshop seriously if it is rushed, and will be less likely to focus and stay engaged.

If you’d like more information about conducting in class workshops, or would like a Writing Studio representative to assist you in facilitating a peer workshop, please contact us at 212-217-3060.

Develop/Create Writing Assignments

There are many benefits that can come from incorporating writing into the classroom. Students are able to retain and understand course information better when they write about it. Additionally, writing deepens thinking and increases students’ engagement with course material. In order to incorporate writing into the classroom, you must first create an assignment. Good writing assignments prompt students to think more deeply about what they’re learning. Writing teachers build assignments by:

Richard Light’s research at Harvard finds that “students relate writing to intensity of courses. The relationship between the amount of writing for a course and students’ level of engagement–whether engagement is measured by time spent on the course, or the intellectual challenge it presents, or students’ self-reported level of interest in it–is stronger than any relationship we found between student engagement and any other course characteristic” (The Harvard Assessment Seminars, Second Report, 1992, 25).

Writing can provide insight into ways students think and learn. With many written assignments, you will be able to see what the students understand or discover what may be confusing them. It can also facilitate better classroom discussions by preparing students to participate in the next day’s discussion through different written assignments.

Students’ critical thinking skills can be improved through writing by teaching them how to organize ideas, develop points logically, make explicit connections, elaborate ideas, argue points, and situate an argument in the context of previous research.

Finally, writing is a necessary skill that, without practice, can suffer. Because learning to write well is difficult and because it requires sustained and repeated practice, we need to ensure our undergraduates write regularly, throughout the curriculum, in all majors.

Here are some tips for producing an effective writing assignment:

Examining your goals for the assignment

The assignment should fit into the objectives of the course through relating to the texts of the class and/or relating to the world beyond the classroom. You should also consider what you want the students to learn or experience from this writing assignment. Should they demonstrate mastery of certain concepts and/or texts? Show logical and critical thinking? Develop an original idea? To learn and demonstrate the procedures, practices, and tools of your field of study?

Defining the writing task

If it is a larger assignment, you may want to consider sequencing it so that the students write a draft, receive feedback from you or fellow students, and then revise it. Such a procedure has been proven to accomplish at least two goals: it improves the student’s writing and it discourages plagiarism. You should also think about the purpose of the assignment (e.g., review knowledge already learned, find additional information, synthesize research, examine a new hypothesis). Making the purpose(s) of the assignment clear helps students write the kind of paper you want. Finally, what is the required form (e.g., expository essay, lab report, memo, business report)?

Establishing the audience for the paper

When considering the audience, many students write only to the instructor, which causes them to assume that very little requires explanation. Defining a hypothetical audience can help students determine which concepts to define and explain.

Explaining your evaluative criteria

Make sure the students know what you will be evaluating and, if possible, explain the relative weight in grading assigned to the quality of writing and the assignment’s content.

After you have finished creating your assignment, here is a checklist to ensure the clarity of the assignment:

  • Assignments are provided and explained in writing, including the weighting course writings will have in the calculation of course grades.
  • Writing assignments are linked to significant course objectives.
  • The assignment specifies the purpose for writing, the audience to be addressed, the form of the writing, and its length.
  • Assessment criteria are specified.
  • Due dates are specified.
  • Longer writing projects are organized in stages.