Using Writing to Facilitate Discussion
In FYS, writing can easily be integrated to facilitate class discussion and to help students synthesize the ideas discussed in class. Here, we’ve divided our ideas for facilitating informed discussion into three venues where you might encourage student writing: in class, online, or in more formal written responses (on paper).
Providing students time to write in class can often result in more productive class discussions. You might consider:
- Setting aside a few minutes at the start of class to have students free-write about an idea you’ll then engage as a class.
- Starting class by having students review their notes from the previous class and develop a few questions for clarification or expansion.
- Concluding groupwork with collaborative writing: instead of asking students to immediately report their groups’ findings to the class, ask them to work together to draft a paragraph that you can then use to both continue the discussion and model student writing.
There are several forums you can use to facilitate conversations online. Students could try:
- Posting on a collaborative facebook page for the class, where they share relevant articles, links, and images and comment on one another’s posts.
- Interacting on a blog or forum where a “discussion leader” posts questions raised by class discussion or readings and other students respond.
- Using a blog to post low-stakes writing assignments and respond to one another by asking questions raised by their writing.
- Developing a collaborative course outline, whereby after each class a different student is responsible for posting a short summary of the class discussion and interesting questions online and other students can amend or expand on that summary.
- Isolating a single sentence from the reading and explaining why it’s central to the text at hand.
Typically, these are higher-stakes writing assignments that ask students to synthesize and respond to readings or discussions. Students can engage course discussion in more formal writing assignments by:
- Engaging (and citing, of course) the ideas of their classmates in their final papers.
- Writing weekly reflections that respond to the readings and class discussions.
- Identifying a “central question” from class discussion each week and writing a short response.
For more ideas on using writing to facilitate course discussion, please see our page Teaching Writing in Your Classroom.