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Teaching with Writing

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Teaching With Writing

The following instructional tools will help you leverage writing’s potential to stimulate meaningful engagement with course concepts in any discipline. WEC runs workshops on these topics through the Center for Faculty Excellence, or you may book a customized presentation for your academic unit by contacting Robert Scafe (

The Five-Minute Writing Workshop

Slide for a writing prompt in the field of nursing with an image of a spilled bottle of pills. The prompt reads "Medical Ethics: People suffering from schizophrenia should or should not be forced to take their medication." Take five minutes to jot down notes in defense of your position, imagining an audience of fellow medical students. We will discuss but not collect."

Though we all recognize the power of writing to activate a deeper understanding of course concepts, many mistakenly believe that using writing in class will be laborious and will detract from the teaching of content. But this need not be so. In fact, the intuitive and fun “five-minute writing workshop” method developed by Pamela Flash allows you to quickly lead students to engage with a specific skill or concept you want them to master. As the resources below explain, the trick is to create an inductive experience that puts the student’s “thinking with writing” first: for example, they might practice the skill of summary by writing a tweet about yesterday’s lecture, learn an important concept about trendlines by labeling a scientific figure, or activate the anthropologist’s skill of visual observation by recording their reactions to a striking photograph.

"Teaching Writing with Five Minute Workshops." Blog post by Jack Delehanty

Five Minute Writing Workshop: Recording - Slides

The Meaningful Assignment Makeover

A 2016 study of over 700 undergraduates at OU and two other universities found that writing assignments are most engaging when they offer students personal connection, “real-world” scenarios, or researching to learn. The resources below will help you consider how to craft writing challenges that tap students’ intrinsic motivations, and how to make the prompts themselves more accessible, clear, and engaging.

Scaffolding Major Projects

Scaffolding refers to breaking up longer writing projects into smaller parts that target specific writing abilities needed to successfully complete the assignment. While scaffolding has the obvious advantage of preventing last-minute writing, its real power lies in the intentional sequencing of “low-stakes” writing exercises that highlight the learning goals for the assignment one at a time. For example, for a history assignment where learning to analyze primary sources and to craft an arguable thesis were your two biggest learning outcomes, you might add a short, ungraded quoting exercise that you return with comments, followed by “thesis speed dating” where students receive feedback from multiple classmates. Without adding much work at all, you will have ensured that students understand the main priorities in this assignment, and that they have some raw materials for their final draft.

Sequencing Writing Assignments. The WAC Clearinghouse

Checkpointing for Success. By Dr. Michael Richman, OU Meteorology

Inclusive Writing Instruction

We at WEC at cheerleaders for writing, but we also recognize that educators have often used a single standard of English correctness to exclude BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students or to frame the rich traditions of vernacular expression as problems to be “fixed.” We believe certain aspects of WEC’s approach—the emphasis on disciplinary writing abilities over matters of grammar and style; the practices of scaffolding and of positive feedback—accord well with inclusive pedagogies of anti-racist writing assessment and of “universal design for learning” from disability studies. But there are specific practices such as multi-modal expression, alternative grading, and linguistic code-meshing that are vital engaging students from diverse backgrounds.

Universal Design for Learning

Jay Dolmage: "Places To Start" and UDL Wiki

Inclusive and Anti-Racist Assessment

Asao Inoue, Labor-Based Grading Contracts

Susan Blum, Ungrading


Feedback and Grading

A stack of papers

Students need specific and actionable feedback on their papers to grow as writers, but how can a busy professor find time to comment on drafts and revisions? For many, using a grading rubric is the answer. As the below-linked chapter from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas shows, rubrics can range from a simple list of writing criteria to a more detailed grid with score ranges explained for each writing criteria. For others, however, nothing can replace the individualized feedback of the marginal annotation or the summative comment. If you want to learn how to write comments more efficiently and effectively, join one of WEC’s ongoing Canvas modules. The modules are asynchronous and interactive, and offer many resources and examples.