Writing Across the Curriculum Teaching Circle

Tips for Faculty

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Hints, tips, suggestions, pointers and prompts from faculty for faculty...

Small writings stimulate discussion

I use small writing assignments to stimulate class discussion. Students get a few minutes to think about a question I present (example: "Is it better to punish medical malpractice through criminal prosecution or through civil litigation? Why?") and then have to write their answers on a sheet of paper (using only complete sentences!).

I encourage students not only to summarize their personal opinion, but also to justify it based on the class readings. I collect the students¹ answers to take attendance and to gather information on student weaknesses that should be addressed.

The following class discussion usually benefits from better student involvement and more thoughtful contributions. Also, regular use of this type of assignment provides an incentive for students to do the readings before class.

—Andreas Broscheid, Political Science and Public Administration e-mail


Write with your students

When you have students write informally in class (to focus, to pose questions, to review, to preview – whatever), write with them, and share your writing.

This sounds very simple – and it is – but it allows you to model several things:

  • the thinking or problem-posing you are asking students to do;
  • the kind of writing that is thinking-on-paper;
  • the openness you are asking students to exhibit when they share their writing.

—Anita Guynn, English, Theater, Languages e-mail



Reacting to a lecture or reading

Sometimes when class energy starts to wane, often during the last 15 minutes of class time, I stop what I am doing and ask students to get a piece of paper and quickly write a paragraph in which they respond to the lecture or assigned reading.

I give them about four mintues to do this, then we spend another 10 minutes discussing their reaction paragraphs. This is good way for me to gauge the effectiveness of the lecture, and to generate a healthy discussion about our immediate topic.

I collect the paragraphs and read through them myself. Students like doing this as it gives them a moment to consolidate the issues we are tackling, and empowers them to have 'ownership' over these ideas.

—Leslie Hossfeld, Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice e-mail


Taking notes during a speech

This in-class Broadcast Journalism role-playing exercise is serious throughout, but turns out to be quite a bit of fun in the end.

I prepare a brief handout listing a dozen key moments in civil rights history in the United States from 1896. Before class, I select a student and ask her to play the role in class of Coretta Scott King. I give her a copy of the handout.

As class opens, I lead about ten minutes of explanation and discussion of how a reporter takes notes during a speech. I ask students to get out their reporter's notebooks, but I do not pass out the handout.

Working from the handout, the student playing Mrs. King delivers a brief speech on the history of civil rights in the United States. Students consider themselves to be an audience in a large auditorium and cannot ask questions, and Mrs. King does not repeat anything. After the speech, she is not available for clarifications or fills.

I then open a discussion by asking the students to review their handwritten notes and recover one fact each from the speech. This exercise tests their ability to produce substantive writing quickly and then retrieve information from it.

Next, I pose questions:

  • If they were writing a news story for broadcast, what would they put in the story?
  • What information was not important enough to use in their news story?
  • What facts would they go back and look up?

I then pass out the civil rights history handout and ask them to compare their notes on the speech with the facts in the handout. This produces an instructive moment and some levity.

—Tony Curtis, Mass Communications e-mail



Writing a proposal to write a paper

A proposal is another way to ease students into written communication for a class.

At mid-semester in my Intro course, I ask students to write a mini-paper – a three-page research report – on an approved topic. The purpose of the paper would be to inform readers on a political, social, cultural, or economic issue, or an historical event, or a process.

Here's what I ask each student to do:

  • Choose a topic within an assigned general subject area.
  • On an assigned date, hand me a written proposal for the mini-paper.
  • After receiving my approval, complete your research and organize a written discussion of the topic.
  • Submit the mini-paper on the assigned date.

  • I tell students their proposals may be only one paragraph, or more if necessary to explain their plans. I mention that the mini-paper grade would be reduced if the proposal were to be late.

    —Tony Curtis, Mass Communications e-mail