Tag Archives: Workshops

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

Write/Pair/Share

Student Questions

Summary

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: http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/pop5.cfm

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

http://writing2.richmond.edu/wac/wtl.html

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.