Archive for the ‘Drafting’ Category

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Have You Read "Vernacular Eloquence"?

posted: 5.28.15 by Andrea Lunsford

I don’t know how or why it took me so long to find this book, but once I did, I read it straight through (even though it’s nearly 450 pages long). It’s Peter Elbow’s latest work, and surely some of the best work he has done in his long and brilliant career. Check it out!

As you no doubt know, Elbow published Writing without Teachers way back in 1973, making a case for allowing students to write freely as a way to find their voice. He is an ardent and eloquent proponent of freewriting (a term coined by the late Ken Macrorie), and this latest book (published, like Writing without Teachers, by Oxford UP) carries on this tradition, but now with a decided twist. The subtitle of the book is “What Speech Can Bring to Writing,” and his answer is summed up in two words: “a LOT.” [read more]

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Drafting, Professional Development & Service
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The “Craft” of Peer Revision: Part IV

posted: 4.29.15 by Barclay Barrios

In this series we’ve looked at a few ways to make the craft of peer revision more “crafty.”  All of these exercises tend to be a big hit in my classes and I usually end up with stronger papers to grade because of this work.

But why?  Why do students do this work so enthusiastically and so well?  I have some theories: [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Drafting, Learning Styles, Peer Review, Revising, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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The “Craft” of Peer Revision: Part III

posted: 4.22.15 by Barclay Barrios

So far in this series, we’ve looked at coloring (essentially that’s what they’re doing with highlighters), cutting, and taping.  In this part we’re going to move into drawing.

“Drawing the Argument” is one of my favorite class activities when discussing a new reading.  Working in groups, students draw the argument of the essay, locating quotations that support their visual interpretation. [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Barclay Barrios, Drafting, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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The “Craft” of Peer Revision: Part II

posted: 4.15.15 by Barclay Barrios

In my last post, I suggested ways to use highlighters in peer revision.  In this one, we’re moving into dangerous territory—dangerous because scissors are involved (no running!).

Bring a few pairs of scissors to class and some tape.  Ask students to cut up a copy of their paper into individual paragraphs and then to shuffle them.  (You can also ask them to do this part before class, bringing in the cut up paragraphs in an envelope.) Peers are given the individual slips of writing and then asked to put them in the right order, taping them back together. [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Barclay Barrios, Drafting, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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The “Craft” of Peer Revision: Part I

posted: 4.8.15 by Barclay Barrios

Though we have diverse approaches to teaching writing, my experience suggests that one of the commonalities we all share is some sort of peer feedback. Whether we call it peer revision or peer editing or something else, there seems to be wide agreement that seeking feedback is an important part of making writing better. The creative writers in my department would perhaps call this part of the “craft” of writing.  We are more likely to call it part of the writing process.  Regardless, in this series of posts I want to riff a bit on that notion of “craft” by sharing some peer revision strategies I use that are “crafty.” These exercises are all class-tested and Barclay-approved.  I have some theories on why they tend to work so well, which I will share in a later post. For now, though… highlighters! [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Barclay Barrios, Drafting, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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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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How I Got Here, From There

posted: 9.10.10 by archived

The personal narrative assignment is the first prompt most college writers are given in writing class. I wrote about this assignment in a BITS post from the start of the Fall semester last year. At that time, I suggested some ways to alter the personal narrative assignment to encourage even greater originality (some example assignments included autoethnographies, audio narratives, literacy narratives, multigenre and multivocal variations, and so on). You can also access some ideas that I suggested for in-class writing (timelines and artifacts, as well as playlists, sketches, and storyboards). In today’s post, I suggest further personal narrative activities, inspired in part by a comic strip I used to read when I was a kid and by an article I recently read on

You might remember the Family Circus comic strip, a single panel staple of the Sunday funnies, now over fifty years old. One interesting, recurrent visual trope was a map of the path that one of the Family Circus kids (often Billy) took through the neighborhood in a given day. For some reason, I always loved these maps. The article in Slate, written by Julia Turner, discusses (and reprints) hand-drawn maps. (Other examples of this unique art form can be found on With the advent of the GPS, GoogleMaps, and MapQuest, it seems like the hand-drawn map could become obsolete, but Turner’s article makes an interesting case for the virtues of these sketches. I like the idea that a map can be about more than just traveling from point A to point B. Billy’s maps, for example, were really inventories of his imagination. [read more]

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Categories: Drafting, Jay Dolmage, Writing Process
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100 Sticky Notes, or The Simple Way to Move from Observations to Composing

posted: 9.30.09 by Traci Gardner

I have a new challenge for the next class of students I teach:

Buy one package of sticky notes. Any brand will do, but be sure that they are about 3″ square. There should be about 100 notes in the pad. They don’t need to be a name brand. Check the dollar store for cheap ones.

As you read texts for class this term, write your comments or questions on the sticky notes, along with the related page number, and add them to the book. During the term, I want you to use the entire pad of sticky notes.

Sound like busy work? It’s anything but. Take a look at “Added Bonus—Writing a Reader’s Response Journal Entry” from the Scholastic Classroom Solutions blog. I know. It’s an entry from a 3–5 teacher. Stay with me. Take a look at what she’s having students do.

Students write their reader response reflections and analysis on sticky notes and then adhere them to the page that the comment applies to. The journal questions that Victoria Jasztal, the teacher-blogger, uses could work with students at any level, with some slight changes to make the task age-appropriate, or you could use your own journal questions with this technique. Later, Jasztal shares a journal entry that a student might write after writing their sticky notes.

My hunch is that you’re asking why go through all this trouble. If students bought their own books, couldn’t they just underline and make comments in the margin? Sure, they could. But there are some real benefits that I’d like to point out for using sticky notes.

Perhaps the most obvious argument for the technique is that there are times when students can’t or don’t want to write in the books that they are using. The student might have a book from the library for a research project. Perhaps the student has borrowed a book from a roommate. Maybe the student just doesn’t like the idea of writing in books. Sticky notes seem like the perfect solution for all these situations. That’s only the beginning of why this is a great technique for the writing classroom, though.

The size of the sticky notes encourages students to focus on concise, concentrated comments. I suggest either the 3″ square notes or, at most, the 3″ by 5″ rectangular notes. Anything other than the little flags will probably work though. On a 3″ square note, most students can write at least one full sentence. The notes are for their own use, so abbreviations and shortcuts are fine. As long as they can read their notes later, spelling and mechanics don’t really matter. Compare the short comments to the kind of concentrated comments people post on Twitter and in Facebook status updates. The kind of commentary should be familiar to most students. The goal is to ask them to apply that kind of writing to the texts that they are reading in class.

Once students begin using the technique, the sticky notes can improve class discussion. Ask students to point to a passage that stood out in a reading and you often get blank stares. Who remembers that the third paragraph on page 345 was confusing? Underlined text and margin notes might help, but sticky notes poking from the edges of the book make this task easy. The same things works in reverse, of course. If you point the class to a specific passage, you can ask who has a note on the page. Depending upon your classroom set-up, you may even be able to see whose books have notes on the page.

When it comes time for students to compose, the sticky notes can help writers point to supporting details. First, have students make sure that their sticky notes include the page number they relate to, so that they can return to the passages later. You might even urge them to be more specific by pointing to a paragraph number or sentence (e.g., sentence 2 in the second paragraph). Next, have students pull all notes out of the book and arrange them based on similarities. Depending upon the project, there could be piles based on different kinds of imagery, different characters in a story, different rhetorical techniques, and so forth. After notes are sorted, students can choose a topic based on the pile that is most interesting and that gives them enough support for their argument. Students can then place the notes on notebook paper and use them as a jot outline for the evidence to include in their paper. Remind students that they don’t need to use every sticky note, only those that relate to the paper topics they choose.

After writing a paper, students can use the sticky-note technique for peer review comments. Have students write their questions and comments on sticky notes and adhere them to the peer drafts. Since they are writing for other readers, remind them to avoid any unfamiliar abbreviations or shorthand. The sticky notes will give reviewers plenty of space to make their comments without marking up the original document. They can also be removed so that a second reader can comment on the same draft without seeing what other readers have said. Perhaps most importantly, the process applies the same critical thinking process to peer drafts that students apply to the every other text in class.

The technique can take students from first observations all the way to composing the final draft. It’s definitely not busy work. It encourages students to make critical connections to their readings, and, by nature of sticking their comments down, students are literally forced to connect their thoughts to specific passages in the texts. Once they understand this technique, students can easily use it in any class or subject area (as well as in the workplace). And my hunch is that when they use up that first pad of 100 sticky notes, they’ll get another pad.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Discussion, Drafting, Peer Review, Planning
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Enough About Me, Tell Me Something About You…

posted: 9.18.09 by archived

For many college writers, the personal narrative assignment is the first prompt they are given in writing class. As Robert Connors wrote in 1987,

“From the 1890’s through today, personal writing assignments have remained central to the teaching of composition. Almost every writing course includes personal writing, most start with it, and many concentrate on it.  Personal writing is not only widely assigned, but is widely accepted by students.”

One of the main goals of a personal narrative assignment is, simply, fluency. We want to get students to feel comfortable writing. So we ask them to begin by writing about themselves. The assignment can also serve an important social function in a writing classroom. Each essay allows the students to introduce themselves to you (their teacher) and to their peers. Sharing this writing allows students to learn from and about one another.

There are, however, some disadvantages to this classic assignment as well. For instance, when I say that the personal narrative assignment is popular and common, I am also speaking to teachers who have read thousands of these papers in their careers (or just this week). We can readily recognize the recurrent sub-genres of this form of student writing: from conversion narratives to stories of athletic triumph. Often, a personal narrative reads like a prose résumé or the treatment for a predictable Hollywood movie. It can be difficult to push students to write a personal essay that contains “genuine” reflection or critical thinking.

It is possible that the impetus for reflection or critical thinking calls for a difficult gymnastic — many students simply aren’t yet comfortable thinking critically about themselves. Many students may feel they don’t have enough distance from an experience to write about it. Others might not see their life as interesting enough to share. For many students, this assignment is simply too close to one of the most high-stakes forms of writing they have been asked to do in their lives: the college entrance essay. And so the genre doesn’t really feel new, and maybe it feels fraught to them.

Of course, none of these explanations should dissuade us from encouraging students to do this writing. There is too much to gain. I feel we need creative ways to critically engage the personal.

So I’ve developed alternative lessons and assignment ideas to help move students beyond predictable and clichéd narratives and toward more engaging writing.

Here are a few assignments to get students started:

  • Dialogue: Ask students to re-create an important conversation from their past.
  • Adjectives: Ask students to compile a list of adjectives that best describe them, and then use these words in a poem or short story.
  • Character Sketches: Ask students to describe important people in their lives (and perhaps to draw them).
  • Artifacts: Ask students to describe or draw pictures of key objects from their past (a baseball glove, a tree in their backyard, a bike), tell the story of the object to the class, and then write this story down.
  • Story Board: Ask students to draw several scenes from their past, describe the sequence between these key scenes, and then write this description down.
  • Playlist/Mix Tape: Ask students to choose a song that has deep personal meaning to them, or that was the “soundtrack” to an important moment or period in their life. Then listen to the song and freewrite, allowing the song to call up memories.

I find these in-class activities can spur students to “enter” their own lives from different angles. In my next post, I’ll look at some of the ways the entire assignment of a personal narrative can be redesigned.

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Categories: Drafting, How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage, Rhetorics, Writing Process
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How Baby Pictures Can Help Writers

posted: 9.16.09 by Traci Gardner

I’m not very good at perspective. I never think my latest draft is good enough. Every time I skim through, I doubt I’ve made any progress.

It’s hard to see any substantial changes when we’re deep in the writing process. That’s where baby pictures can make all the difference. No, not pictures of actual babies. Baby pictures of the texts we’re working on.

Here’s an example. Take a look at How 20 popular Web sites looked when they launched. The article includes baby pictures of the most popular sites on the Internet. You’re bound to notice some significant changes when you think about the sites as they exist today. Google looks similar to the site of today, but Facebook, MySpace, and Yahoo look nothing like today’s version. A comparison of past and present versions quickly demonstrates how much they’ve evolved.

You can easily arrange a similar comparison for the writers you teach. Early in their composing process, ask students to capture a photographic version of their work:

  • Save a first draft by printing out an extra copy or making a photocopy.
  • Have students take a snapshot of the first part of their texts with a webcam.
  • Take a screenshot of the work on the computer.
  • Snap an image with a cell phone or other available camera.

Next, save these baby pictures for later in the process. You can collect paper versions or have students submit files online. If you want, students might even share these first photographic images with one another and reflect a bit on their process so far.

Later in their composing process, explore websites from the Telegraph article and then ask students to make similar comparisons between the baby pictures of their work and their current versions. They’re bound to realize that they’ve made much more progress than they think—and gain some great perspective on themselves as writers.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Drafting, Revising, Writing Process
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