Archive for the ‘Writing Process’ Category

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Ten Visual Collaboration and Sharing Ideas

posted: 3.24.15 by Traci Gardner

Have you ever asked students to brainstorm without words? Thanks to a recent discovery, I’m imagining new possibilities for visual collaboration and sharing using Padlet.

Padlet is a free, online white board tool, which can be used anonymously and collaboratively. I typically set up a board for each class, and students then brainstorm ideas related to recent projects or readings. [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Planning, Traci Gardner
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Word Clouds as Revision Tools

posted: 3.10.15 by Traci Gardner

Word clouds highlight the most frequently used words in a text, using larger font sizes for the words used most often and smaller sizes for those used less often. The word cloud below, created with Wordle, highlights the most frequently used words in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

These word clouds can become analytical tools as students look at the words used most frequently and notice which ones stand out. [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Digital Writing, Drafting, Revising, Teaching with Technology, Traci Gardner
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Multimodal Mondays: Composing within the Blogosphere

posted: 1.26.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.

When I first started using blogging in my classes it was in an advanced writing class as a specialized genre, presented as an extension of the classical essay form. This was easy to demonstrate to students because of the particular characteristics:  the desire to discover, the conversational tone, the writerly movement between the specific and the universal, the strong sense of audience engagement.   I also have students create electronic portfolios in many of my classes. The portfolios provided a place for students – as working writers – to revise their writings and showcase their work in public arenas. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays, Revising, Teaching with Technology, Writing Process
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“The” Research Paper

posted: 11.22.11 by Steve Bernhardt

During an informal discussion in our department the other day, a group of writing teachers were talking about the genres we assign in first-year writing. Of course, the genre of “the research paper” loomed large, and I wondered out loud if the definite article signaled some special generic status—some sort of reification or calcification. I think it does.

There are other ways to talk about this assignment, including simply “a research paper,” or better yet, “a researched paper,” or “papers that use research findings to make their arguments.” These rephrasings move us toward the indefinite or newly known, and they move us from nouns and noun substantives toward more reliance on descriptive or verbal phrases. That last rephrasing really tips the scale, as it invites reflection on what “research findings” are, where we find them, and how we use them. But any of these alternative locutions would free up some of the presuppositions behind the genre, offering a bit of breathing room for determining exactly what is expected.

And students do arrive with their own expectations. A surprising number of my first-year students had written “the research paper” in high school, typically in their senior English class but sometimes, too, in history or social studies. They know the genre is mainly about compiling a lot of source material and then somehow organizing it into a long paper bracketed between a title page and a list of references. They are pretty sure it is double-spaced. They also know it is not “the five-paragraph essay,” a much less intimidating and more practiced genre. [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Research, Working with Sources, Writing Process
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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. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Center, Writing Process
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Finding a Subject: Fall Edition

posted: 10.28.11 by archived

I tell my students that finding a subject to write about is half the battle. The longer I teach the more I think we may not spend enough time at this crucial invention stage.  That’s the problem with procrastinating, I say, that you don’t give yourself time for your subconscious to get to work in collecting up some details so that you can to consider and assess various possibilities.

Instead of focusing on the writing process via thesis statement, outline, topic sentence, transitional device (terms that can make even my eyes glaze over), I try to talk about a thinking process that goes something like this:

Seeing. Start with getting out in the world and looking, as I did last summer in my wildflower post. I use the purely visual here as metaphor for the nontrivial tasks of noticing, listening, collecting up scraps. My students don’t find it easy to cultivate this attentiveness, with family and work obligations filling their schedules and cradled cellphone screens filling their fields of vision.

Naming. Once they manage to focus their attention, it’s another challenge to find the words to describe what they see.  I try an exercise. Look at this and describe what you see:


First attempts look something like this: “It’s a decent size store with things all over the walls and things stacked on top of each other in many different colors and sizes. “ So what’s wrong with that, I ask? [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Holly Pappas, Writing Process
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How to Look like a Writer

posted: 6.28.11 by Traci Gardner

Earlier254235420_f116752ea0_m this month, Virginia Tech’s campus newspaper, the Collegiate Times, published a piece on how to “Blend in to avoid looking like the typical freshman.” The list includes advice like don’t wear your student ID in a lanyard around your neck and don’t ride your bike around the Drill Field the wrong way.

There are thousands of essays that use the same “what not to do” structure. In a quick Google search, I found an article on Things not to do (on a unicycle), What not to do in Japan (from CNN), and a What not to do on social media (from ClickZ,with a tie-in to Anthony Wiener’s online behavior). If you want a video example, you can always sample something from the Learning Channel’s What Not to Wear.

These “what not to do” texts are frequently humorous, poking fun at people who do the wrong things. The incoming Virginia Tech students are warned not to “travel in massive herds,” for instance, and the unicycle photos are introduced as “humorous photos of things that are not advisable to do on, with or near unicycles.”

The genre does not require humor, however. The CNN tips for travelers to Japan focus on straightforward advice, pairing things not to do with wiser alternatives. Likewise, the ClickZ article pairs dos and don’ts as it discusses how to avoid social media disasters and what to do when the inevitable happens.

So what does this have to do with looking like a writer? When I read the article on blending in as a freshman, I thought about how students work to look like writers in the writing classroom. Immediately I recalled the video Andrea Lunsford shared earlier this year of a student who was working to “‘invent the university’ for herself” by trying on the props and language of a writer. Students obviously know a few things about what to do and what not to do to look like a writer. The “what not to do” structure can be the basis for sharing that information. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology, Writing Process
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The Anxiety of Organization: The Gritty Specifics of the Writing Process

posted: 4.11.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

All week I have been thinking about Aaron Kerley’s comment on my last post: “[what happens when students encounter] the anxiety about the act of writing itself as a meaning-making process?” I love this question because Aaron allows me to challenge my assumptions and return to the gritty specifics of process. was thinking of Aaron’s challenge as I prepared to travel to Atlanta for the Conference on College Composition and Communication. I woke up last week increasingly anxious about this trip—and all the chores I had to complete before boarding the airplane. In these situations, advice for time management sounds strikingly similar to advice for writers in developmental English. Make a list of tasks to complete, then prioritize those tasks. I made a list in my head:

  • Pack my suitcase
  • Write this post

Then my anxiety increased. What clothes to pack first? My thoughts wandered away from packing to existential concerns (What if the weather in Atlanta is hot and humid?  Should I pack summer clothes? But what if the hotel air conditioning is freezing cold? Do I need a heavy sweater? What if it rains?). So I reversed my priorities. I would write first—and I would write about the anxiety of organization. Then perhaps I could pack. [read more]

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Categories: Planning, Writing Process
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Following a List

posted: 4.5.11 by Steve Bernhardt

In my previous post, I discussed Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Picador, 2009), specifically noting the ways that lists can improve team performance on complex tasks, including writing. These lists must be stripped to essentials and tested repeatedly under performance conditions, refined to fit the way people behave at work. I ended by suggesting, as Gawande does, that lists don’t work by themselves. A list has to be reviewed at the right time, with the right people, and in the right way if it is really going to improve performance.

In Gawande’s operating rooms, the surgical team calls a time-out at opportune moments, what he calls pause points, to make sure everything is right and ready. One pause point is just before the patient is given anesthesia; the second is after anesthesia but before making an incision; the third is after the patient is closed up and ready to be wheeled away. Timing is critical to decrease errors and improve outcomes. We might ask: What are the pause points in our writing classrooms? When is just the right time to review a simple list that calls to mind the most important points of consideration or action? Too often, I find myself closing out a class session by reminding students what to do when they eventually get around to working on an assignment. While I am trying to review key points for their consideration, the students are shuffling laptops and backpacks, ready to move on. My timing is bad. [read more]

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Does Length Matter?

posted: 4.5.11 by Traci Gardner

2606645766_e5a934eb40_mI want to confess a career-long struggle with length requirements. It’s really a life-long struggle if we take into account my days as a student, but I digress.

Every writing teacher has at some point been asked, “How long does it have to be?” That question derails the entire point of nearly every writing assignment.

As a new teacher, I used word counts, telling students that they needed to write 1,000-word essays. Before computers, that word-count requirement led to endless tedium as students questioned which words counted, how to deal with hyphenated words, and other minutiae embedded in their brains by past writing teachers. When I confessed that I never counted their words, but offered the requirement as a rough guideline, it didn’t end the obsessive word counting. I often found little penciled-in numbers above every 25 words in an essay,  the students’ trail of evidence that the 1,000 word requirement had been met.

So I began using page lengths instead. My essay assignments instructed students to write four- to five-page papers. This change in policy ushered in a new era of constantly shifting margin widths. In some cases, margins grew to as much as an inch and a half; in others, they shrank to three quarters or even half an inch. Students asked how far down a page you could space your title, how much extra space you could legitimately put between the title and the first paragraph, and just how much text you had to have on that last page for it to count as a page of text. Length requirements still weren’t working for me. [read more]

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