Debby Ellis Writing Center

Teaching Writing In Your Classroom

Leading a Discussion about Writing

Maintaining a “meta-discussion” about writing can help students better understand how the writing they’re doing for your course builds on skills they already have and how the techniques and approaches they’re learning can transfer to other courses.

Discussing Research

  • #11 – Brainstorming search terms - Once students are a little further along in their writing, this quick activity can help them to think deliberately about finding sources and further tie their writing assignments into the fabric of your course.

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Discussing Summary

  • #12 - Identifying arguments - Sometimes it’s difficult for students to understand the persuasive subtext of a piece of writing if it’s not immediately visible. This quick exercise, which can take place inside or outside of class, can help your students recognize the arguments of a text.

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Discussing Generic Conventions

  • #13 - Building a collaborative genre guide - In our section on rubrics, we propose working with students to decide on grading criteria for their writing. This is a variant on that exercise, in which students work as a class to develop their own genre guides drawn from course readings. This exercise can allow you to address any misunderstandings that students have about generic conventions. It also allows you to explain the reasoning behind some of the conventions in your field. The document you develop together can guide students as they write their own papers, and the exercise itself shows them how to use other texts as models when faced with a question about disciplinary conventions. 
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  • #14 - Using genre guides to evaluate course texts - This exercise helps students to identify the various forms that generic conventions can take and see their own work as conversant with the work of experts in your field. 
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Brainstorming and Prewriting 

  • #15 - Playing with metaphors - In Engaging Ideas, John C. Bean suggests encouraging students to use metaphor to think through the structure of their arguments, and to push their thinking beyond the terms of discussion outlined in course texts or lectures. This exercise can be particularly useful for literature reviews or compare/contrast essays. It lends itself well to meta-analysis, which can be helpful when students are developing their own criteria for evaluation.

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  • #16 - Trading questions - This in-class exercise, designed for use after students have narrowed their topic to a thesis, can help them identify questions to answer in their text. 
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Discussing Thesis Formation 

  • #17 – Using templates to write a thesis – This exercise will help students begin crafting a thesis for a research paper. It is drawn from the composition textbook They Say, I Say, which can be a helpful resource for teaching writing. If you’re a Southwestern professor who would like a copy of this book, please email us here. Although you may want to stress to students the importance of revising theses into their own language, using a template can help students identify the key parts of their thesis and begin to think about how they’ll put their papers together.

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  • #18 - Building a thesis as a class – This in-class exercise is designed to help students write theses that are clear and specific. This is one that we use in our own classes, and though it takes a bit of class time and a lot of writing on our part, students frequently tell us that it was helpful to them. We’ve provided an example of thesis building here.
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Discussing Idea Development

  • #19 – Debating ideas - This exercise works best when students are ready to begin drafting. It’s designed to help students identify weak spots in their arguments and  consider counter-arguments. Talking through their papers can help students to articulate ideas that they might have trouble getting in writing on a first draft.

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Discussing Evidence Use

  • #20 – Using templates to frame quotations or data - Many students are unclear about the conventions of incorporating quotations into their work, particularly since the conventions about when and how to mark quotations vary by discipline. The following templates may or may not work for your discipline. If not, you might consider developing templates on your own or with your students for incorporating quotations and data. If you’re a Southwestern professor who would like a copy of They Say, I Say, please email us.

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  • #21 – Approaching reviews of literature - This discussion is designed to help students think about writing in your discipline and how it might differ from other types of writing they’ve done before. Explaining the rationale behind the different approaches to literature reviews can help students better understand what they should be trying to accomplish in this section of their papers. 

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Discussing Introductions & Conclusions

  • #22 Talking about what not to do – A good number of the activities on this list rely on using modeling to teach writing. While it’s undoubtedly helpful to provide students with positive models for their papers, it can also be useful to give them examples of what not to do. This exercise aims to steer students away from some common errors or clichés as they revise their introductions and conclusions.

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Discussing Editing

  • #23 – Avoiding “awkward” - Most students who bring their papers into the DEWC with professors’ comments are usually pretty clear about what work they need to do to fix their papers. However, when students do have questions about comments, they frequently revolve around the word “awkward.” Unlike grammar and mechanics errors, which students can usually find and fix on their own, awkward phrasing can be difficult for students to identify or know how to address. The following activity is designed to help students learn about and avoid some of the most common issues behind awkward phrasing. It begins with distributing the handout “Avoiding Awkward,” which is available here.

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  • #24 – Having students present on grammar & mechanics - If you have a class that is really struggling with issues of grammar or mechanics, John C. Bean suggests having students do brief “grammar presentations” to the class. This activity will help them address some of the most common concerns, and can allow students to build a handbook over the course of the semester that they can use in their own writing and for peer review. You can find a sample prompt, with links to useful websites, here.

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Next:  Providing Opportunities for Low-Stakes Writing