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Writing Across the Curriculum
The National WAC Clearinghouse is rich with assignments, suggestions, and philisophical
reasoning on how writing actualizes learning.
- Use writing regularly in a variety of ways such as explaining formulas, drawing ideas and labeling sections of them, or using a combination of writing in numbers, pictures and words. Allow students to practice writing in your discipline.
- Assign a series of one page papers -- several small papers, instead of one or two large, or make one page papers optional. Give credit for the number of one page papers completed: 5 - X points 4 - X points 3 - X points
- Journals: stagger the collection (and your reading) of journals. For instance, collect 20 journals each week; you can look at journals while students are engaged in group work. You can assign a course journal with separate sections: one for class responses, for prompts about reading , or one in which students respond on their own to assigned daily reading.
- Collaborative papers: one way to make these work more effectively is to give students a set number of points to distribute among themselves.
- Question box: Use questions generated by students to begin class. Place box at door so when students leave they may drop question in box. Example - "Everything you always wanted to know about English, but were afraid to ask." Place question on overhead in student's writing for maximum effectiveness.
- Build peer review into paper - students must have a peer review attached to their paper when it is handed in.
- Use labs and discussion sections for checking and assigning writing whenever possible.
- "Writing Ticket:" Students must have paper, paragraph, question, memo, or any other written assignment to gain admission into class. These assignments may be used to compile extra points or generate discussion and need not be graded. The success of this is largely dependant on a "bouncer," a student who takes papers at the door and marks off names of students with papers, or turns away those who don't have papers.
- "Close of Class" Have students review notes and write one or two possible essay questions for exam, a problem that imitates the one discussed, a summary of the discussion, etc.
- Check student expectations. Begin the quarter by asking students any of the following:
What do you know about this subject
What do you think you will learn in this class?
What do you hope to learn in this class?
- Design paper assignments in stages. Rather than assign one long paper, break down research into component parts.
- Let students participate in assignment making. Hand out assignments, or put on overheads and clarify and edit with students. Conversely, if an assignment "goes wrong," critique it with students and make it part of the content-writing-learning process.
- Have students write at the beginning of class, the end, or when a heated discussion breaks out, when you are not sure they understand a concept or process. Have THEM discuss these in small groups so they can either teach each other or discover their specific questions (rather than just, "I don't get it.").
- Use peer groups and collaboration for drafts or to help students revise (re-vision) their ideas.
- Use non-graded writing so students become familiar with manipulating disciplinary language and concepts. These do not all have to be read because students learn by writing them. (But they often provide valuable insight into how students are processing information.)
- Assign multiple drafts; spot read them, have your tutor read them, or have students read each others' drafts for feedback.
- Assign multiple drafts in stages (first an idea paragraph, then an abstract, then a three or four page paper with resources, then a seven page draft). Selectively read them or have students read each others' papers.
Quick Tips on Designing an Assignment
- Stress the real world importance of writing, and its relationship to the assignment.
- Hand out samples or models of completed assignments. Have students discuss, or write about these. Ask what makes this assignment successful--or not successful.
- Build the assignment in class, with the assistance of students. E.g., Given that I want to see if you understand the social implications of fiscal policies, what project can you design that would demonstrate your understanding of this relationship?
- Have students develop their own assignments. Organize students into groups and have them discuss the assignment and evaluation criteria; they learn class concepts from each other while doing this.
- Share assignments with associates; get their feedback.
- Have students discuss orally and in writing how they will proceed with the assignment. This is especially effective with research or analytic papers because the faculty member can see if students understand discipline specific resources as well as what stands for evidence in a discipline.
- Make expectations very explicit.
Quick Tips on Assessment
- Show evaluative techniques you will use in grading assignments. Explain the purpose of the assignment and the criteria you will use to measure whether they have accomplished that purpose. Stick to those criteria when grading.
- When using journals, don't read every entry; instead, have students choose seven or eight entries for grade or credit.
- Focus on ideas rather than mechanics when grading journals or in-class "free writing."
This technique can be used frequently. The exercises are a good way for the students to begin learning a new subject or to start a paper. Tell the students to simply scribble away for six or seven minutes as fast as possible. It is much like answering a question on an examination. It is to be an essay, not an outline. Each essay should have a title, the student's name and the date. Sometimes the students hand them in, and sometimes they simply keep them. After they write in class, a further refinement is to form groups of four or five and read to each other. One rule is that everyone takes turns reading the paragraphs before discussing them, and another rule is for them to give their names and the title of the essay. They must be sure to read, not explain what they wrote.