6 Strategies for Student Writing in All Disciplines

Decorative: "Let's Write!" written a pencil tip nearby


"Motivating Students to Read and Write in All Disciplines" (post; pdf) "describes general considerations that highlight the importance of motivating students to read and write, and it offers strategies that you can use in your courses to integrate reading and writing in all disciplines."

  • Each point below is elaborated in the post/pdf.

A. General Considerations

1. The Basics

  • "[H]el[p] students build upon what they have already learned."
  • "[R]emind students of their personal investment in what they are learning."
  • "[E]mphasiz[e] the idea that academic knowledge has practical use outside the university."

2. "To foster effective reading and writing ..."

  • "Make sure that students understand how to read efficiently and why they are writing."
  • "Identify and teach critical and discipline-specific reading and writing skills."
  • "Allow time and opportunities for practice."
  • "Provide feedback that fosters further integration of reading and writing."

3. How to "Integrat[e] Reading and Writing to Improve Students’ Critical Literacy" (Each point is developed more fully in the text.)

  • "Provide an appropriate level of challenge." 
  • "Allow sufficient time to practice."
  • "Evaluate students’ reading and writing practices."

B. "In Practice": Strategies, Activities, & Exercises

  • Each suggestion here is developed more fully in the text.

1. “Read-to-Learn” and “Write-to-Learn” Exercises

  • "Assign discovery drafts ... essentially 'free-writing' exercises."
    • "[S]tudents sit down at the computer and allow themselves to 'think out loud' on a particular topic."
  • "Assign in-class free-writing assignments."
    • Students write on an assigned topic for "fifteen minutes of class time for free-writing."
    • "Then use what students have written to guide the class discussion."
  • "Ask students to share their written reactions to the reading."
    • "Students can exchange their 'marked-up' texts and notes with other students, so that each can see the kind of active reading the others are doing."

2. "The Invention Journal"

a. What Is It? 

  • "[A] place where students ... record in writing their progression in the class ... [and] express their creativity by establishing connections and generating ideas."
  • "[A] preparation for other, more structured assignments.

b. "In such a journal, students can":

  • "Generate ideas for a project or assignment."
  • "Analyze lines of reasoning and ways of thinking that are important within the project."
  • "Analyze their audience and their own perception of that audience."
  • "Record and plan further research."
  • "Plan for and analyze strategies for completing a project or assignment."
  • "Record their own personal reactions to the task they are addressing and their progress on the task."
  • "Begin organizing and composing their projects in the form they will ultimately take."
  • "Record the feedback received from you and others during peer-critique activities."

3. "Training Students to Read Like a Writer"

a. "[A]sk questions to help students read like a writer, i.e. reading to see how something is stylistically and argumentatively constructed so that students can use similar strategies."

  • "[U]se these questions to start class discussion, and ... as a good starting point for modeling strategies." 

b. "[H]ave them address questions such as these":

  • "What is the author’s purpose for this piece of writing?"
  • "Who is the intended audience?"
  • "How effective is the language the author uses?"
    • "Is it too formal? Too informal? Perfectly appropriate?"
  • "What kind of evidence does the author use to support his/her claims?"
    • "Does he/she use statistics? Quotes from famous people? Personal anecdotes or personal stories?"
    • "Does he/she cite books or articles?"
  • "How appropriate or effective is this evidence?"
    • "Would a different type of evidence or some combination of evidence be more effective?"
  • "Are there places in the writing that you find confusing?"
    • "What makes the writing in those places unclear?"
  • "How does the author move from one idea to another in the writing?"
    • "Are the transitions between ideas effective?"
    • "How else might he/she have transitioned between ideas?"
  • "What rhetorical techniques does the author use?"
    • "Are they effective?"
    • "What would be the advantages and disadvantages if you tried these same techniques in your writing?"

4. "Learning Records" (similar to [e]portfolios)

  • "[S]tudents ... gather, organize, analyze, evaluate, and report evidence of their progress and achievement."
  • A LR can include "diverse forms of information about student learning over time, including samples of student work and students’ reflections on what they know and can do."
    • Examples of "ongoing evidence of learning": "tape recordings of performances, drafts of papers, sketches and diagrams, diagnostic test results, quizzes or exams, links to online materials, and other samples of student work."
  • A LR should conclude with an analysis and evaluation of learning.
  • NOTE: "[T]he LR is well suited to assess collaborative work, creative inquiry, online projects, and other kinds of work that are usually considered difficult to evaluate."
    • "It is also well suited for evaluating students who come into the class with different sets of skills and background experience, or physical or learning disabilities."

5. "The Précis ... on an Assigned Reading or on Their Own Drafts"

"A précis is designed to reflect the structure of a text’s argument ... [and] has three sections."

a. "[A] statement about the text’s focus."

  • "Students write a concise statement (1-2 sentences) ... [on] the main issue that the text addresses ... not includ[ing] journalistic commentary, or examples, or evaluations." 

b. "[A] statement of logic and goal (the text’s intent)." 

  • "This ... introduce[s] a chart with headings encompassing the text’s data in two parallel columns of notes (usually with page references to the reading) ... [and] identify[ing] the logic pattern in the text."
    • "Under these headings, students can add three or four examples that illustrate the logic pattern."
  • "Encourage students to recognize and use verbs that typically indicate logic: compare, contrast, link causally, cause, follow from, etc."

c. "[A] paragraph (about 3 sentences) indicating the implications of the information pattern."

  • "This is ... an extension of the covert statement implied by the information and pattern."
    • "[W]hat is this text good for?"
    • "[W]hat is being asserted, hidden, or brushed aside?" "
    • "Who would profit most by this arrangement?

6. "Reading and Writing in the Classroom"

  • "[C]reate ... [a] writing assignment ... in which students ... analyze—in groups and in class through guided discussion—how an argument in the specific subject area is constructed."
    • "[U]se what students have written to further class discussion."
  • "[A]sk students to write notes during the lecture."
    • Teach "how to take effective notes ... that ... reflect the argument of the lecture."
    • "[O]rganize a group activity in which students share notes."
    • Go "through examples of class notes, explaining why some note-taking is effective and suggesting improvements where needed."
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