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Hey, Let’s Start a Writing Center!

posted: 11.18.11 by Andrea Lunsford

I’ve said many times that starting the writing center at Stanford was the most fun I’ve had in my long career.  Please join me for a virtual visit to the Hume Writing Center:

Writing centers have been on my mind lately (as my last post confirms), and not just in colleges and universities. Recently I had a chance to meet with teachers from the Humble Independent School District in Houston at Summer Creek High School. I swooned when I went into the library and then again when I saw that the students had a little “coffee shop” space of their own. Though we were meeting at the end of the school day, I did meet a few students, who spoke in glowing terms of their school and of the learning they were doing there:  one of the teachers told me that they often had a hard time getting the students to leave school, so it seemed to me that it was a real safe house for many.

We spent part of our time together talking about student writing and the strengths students today bring to their writing from their experiences writing online—and about ways to help students make appropriate choices depending on their purposes, audiences, and so on.  But we also talked—to my delight—about opening a writing center.  Over the years, I have helped to open centers in a number of high schools (and one elementary school), and I’ve found that you don’t need a lot of money to do so.  It’s certainly nice to have funds available for all the bells and whistles—but it’s not necessary:  what you need is a space (and it doesn’t have to be big), a couple of tables and chairs, a computer (if possible), and some enthusiastic tutors.

If you are considering establishing a writing center in your high school, I would make one recommendation:  start small and slow. Begin by identifying a space and then potential tutors. Meet with them regularly for training until you feel confident that they’re ready to go. Once you have a schedule for tutoring hours, advertise it minimally at first, letting the news spread by word of mouth.  You’ll have some slow days for sure, but in my experience the students will start talking to one another about it soon enough. It helps then to hold some events that celebrate writing—you don’t want the writing center to be thought of as a “remedial” place but as a place where all writers go to talk about their writing and to grow as writers.  In my experience, high schoolers like to perform for one another, so having a poetry reading or slam is often a good way to “brand” your center.

At one school I worked with, a former student donated funds to dedicate a room filled with computers and equipment for multimedia writing and for making films, audio essays, and storytelling projects. At another school with very limited funds, we “repurposed” a large closet as a writing center.  Both are still going strong!

Categories: Writing Center, Writing Process
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