Supporting Student Writing
All of the resources on this site are designed to offer ways to support student writing. However, here we will focus on three key components of writing instruction:
- Sequencing Assignments
- Modeling writing for students
- Incorporating peer review
By sequencing assignments, you can check in with students early and often about their writing, offering feedback on ideas or structure while it’s still relatively easy to make changes and helping students develop complex, well-organized arguments. Below we offer three common sequences used by FYS professors at Southwestern. For more information about sequencing assignments, including other possible approaches and additional examples, please see our page Planning Writing in Your Course.
One way to organize student writing assignments is accumulative sequencing.
In this type of sequencing, students write a paper, then revise it and build on what they’ve written, then revise and expand again.
A number of FYS courses use progressive sequencing.
They break a large assignment into component parts, and have students write several short papers that they then knit together into a larger whole.
Finally, you might try using elaborative sequencing.
This type of sequencing starts with informal writing assignments designed to get students thinking about their topics and slowly works toward more formal, higher-stakes assignments.
As we suggested in the last section, having your students approach texts as pieces of writing rather than transparent communicators of information can go a long way toward building good student work. Below, we include a few examples of common ways to model writing. For more ideas on modeling writing in your course, please see our page Teaching Writing in Your Classroom.
One way to model texts is to use your course readings to discuss writing. You might try:
Walking students through articles in class.
Breaking articles into sections and having students work in groups to present each section, identifying the main argument and predicting where the argument will go next.
Gathering several examples of one writing skill: incorporating quotation, for example, or concluding an essay, and having students compare them and decide which they think is most effective.
It can also be helpful to develop models for class improvement. You might try:
Writing a bad thesis and working as a class to identify the problems and then revise it.
Trying a “good/better/best” exercise in which you write a sentence (perhaps a summary of an article or of the previous day’s discussion) and have students work in groups to make it “better.” After they share, you can have them return to their groups to improve it again and make it the “best” sentence possible.
Using one topic for each writing exercise in class, so that you build a “class paper” together that students can use as a model for their own writing.
Finally, you can always use student work as a model. You might try:
Beginning each day by discussing a paragraph from one of their assignments.
Isolating one “clear” sentence and one “needs work” sentence from each student paper and discussing why the “clear” sentence is clear and how the “needs work” sentence might be improved.
Providing students with sample papers from past years and having them explain what makes these papers good models (or bad ones) for their work.
Incorporating Peer Review
Peer review provides another way to model both positive and negative examples of writing in class. It’s particularly useful in FYS, since students are often intimidated by college writing and may be reassured by reading the work of their classmates.
You can read more about peer review, including more detailed guidelines for development and links to examples and further reading on our page Planning and Leading Peer Review.