Teaching Writing In Your Classroom

Determining How You’ll Scaffold Writing

The following questions are designed to help you decide what kind of scaffolding might be helpful for your course. Considering them before you decide on scaffolding activities can help you choose which activities will be most useful for your students.

What writing skills will you need to teach students to help them succeed in your class?

An important part of scaffolding writing is facilitating a semester-long “meta-discussion” of how writing functions in your class. In lower-level courses, or courses with a large number of non-majors, this might mean focusing on skills that will help them better research, read, and write in your discipline. For majors courses, this might mean focusing on questions of theoretical approach, developing nuanced arguments, or paper structure or organization. If students are already familiar with a skill or approach, you may want to allow them to practice it in a low-stakes writing assignment rather than devoting class time to explaining it.

  • What skills or knowledge will track from their high school experience or their coursework at Southwestern so far? How can you help students understand the transfer of knowledge they’ll use to write for your class?
  • Will your students know how to conduct research in your field? If not, will you discuss with them the reason why certain approaches are better than others?
  • Will your students understand how to read and summarize primary texts in your field? Do you want to walk them through the skills necessary to write summaries, or would it be more appropriate to model this skill or have them do some low-stakes writing and then provide feedback?
  • How familiar are your students with disciplinary conventions and generic conventions? Do they understand the reasoning behind the conventions?
  • How familiar are your students with the incorporation of evidence in writing in your field? Do they understand why one method of writing around evidence is preferable to another?
  • Do you need to review citation practices and guidelines with your students? Do students know how citation in your field differs from that of other fields, and why the primary components of a bibliographic entry or in-text citation are important for readers?
  • Will you want to talk to your students about discrete steps in the writing process like developing a thesis, considering structure, writing introductions and conclusions, and editing? Do any of these skills need explicit reviewing? Are students aware of common errors?
  • How complex are the papers your students will be producing? (The more complex the writing task, the more useful it may be to spend time talking about things like developing ideas, considering nuanced counterarguments, and planning structure and organization).

What models will your students need?

  • Have your students written papers like the ones they’ll be writing for your class before? If not, models of student work as well as professional models may be helpful.
  • Will your class increase the complexity of the kind of writing they’re familiar with, or will you be introducing them to new forms of writing? If you’re introducing them to new forms of writing, what models will they need?
  • Will your students be familiar with the common genres of writing in your discipline? Will they need professional and student models of these genres?
  • Will your students be familiar with the disciplinary conventions of your field? Do you want to draw attention to disciplinary conventions as students read the texts for your class?
  • Is there one particular type of writing that your students will need to master before they move on to another? Can you model for them how one type of writing leads to another?
  • Will your students know how to do research in your discipline? Will you need to model research skills and tactics?
  • Will your students know how to write about fieldwork in your discipline? If not, do you want to provide them with professional or student models of such writing?
  • How much experience will your students have had with planning and organizing a paper? Would a model outline be helpful?
  • How much experience will your students have had with revision? How much revision will you want students to conduct? Would it be more helpful to bring in models of revised student work or revisions of more professional writing (your own writing can provide an excellent model for students)?

How will you incorporate low-stakes writing?

Once you have determined what in-class instruction you’ll provide, the next step is to determine when and how you’ll give students the opportunity to practice new skills and receive feedback on low-stakes writing assignments before they move on to the major assignments for your class.

The number and order of low-stakes writing assignments will vary depending on your course. For lower-level courses, low-stakes writing can help students practice disciplinary approaches and test out ideas. For higher-level classes, low-stakes writing can provide an opportunity for students to receive feedback on discrete parts or steps of the complex papers they’ll be writing for your course. You may want to consider:

  • Will your students need to practice research skills?
  • Will practicing summary help them prepare for better class discussions and their later writing assignments?
  • How do you want students to build connections through writing in your course? Low-stakes writing assignments that build connection can help facilitate class discussion – is this something that you want to work into your planning?
  • Will your students need practice identifying and practicing generic conventions?
  • Will your students need support developing ideas for their writing? Would you prefer to have students learn from one another (if so, you may want to choose a revision exercise), or from a model, or from your feedback on low-stakes writing assignments, or from some combination of the above?
  • Will your students need to practice using evidence in ways that suit the goals of your course and the conventions of your discipline in their writing? How much experience do they have with writing in your discipline? Would it be helpful to include a low-stakes writing assignment that focuses only on this skill, or would it be better to incorporate this into another low-stakes assignment?
  • Do you want students to practice discrete steps of the writing process and give feedback as they: develop a thesis, plan the structure of their paper, write their introductions and conclusions, practice citation, and edit their papers? If so, at what points would it be most helpful to have them submit work to you for comments?

What kinds of revising will you have students do?

Studies show that a key to producing excellent student writing is providing students with an understanding of, and the skills necessary for, revision. You may want to consider the following:

  • How much will you want your students to provide feedback to one another? If you’d prefer that they all be familiar with one another’s work, then a workshop model, in which the entire class provides feedback to each student, may be best. 
  • Would you like to have students do a peer review? If so, then please see our page on  planning and leading peer review. 
  • Are there particular points in the writing process where you anticipate that your students may make mistakes? Do you want to have students conduct mini peer reviews on introductions, for example, or conclusions?
  • Would it be helpful to have students get feedback on their organization or other prewriting? Would workshopping outlines help them better organize their papers?
  • Do you want students to work on lower-level writing concerns? How many (if any) editing or revision exercises do you want to lead students through? 


Next: Modeling Writing in the Classroom