English Writing Activities

When lectures and discussions cover complex ideas, in class writing can help facilitate student learning and understanding. There are generally two types of in class writing - informal and formal. Formal in class writing involves giving students time limits, clear standards on what material you would like to be covered, and is generally turned in and graded for content and form. Informal in class writing can be used to discover questions for useful discussion, as well as to explore student connections to the material. Peter Elbow suggests free writing, which he defines as writing privately and without stopping for up to ten minutes. He suggests that the main thing in free writing is trusting yourself and trusting your words: take a spirit of adventure. The no stopping doesn't mean you have to hurry or be tense Invite risks. Remember, free writing is private. We can incorporate free writing into our classes easily to generate student thoughtfulness, and to encourage students to find their own voice as writers, and to begin to trace their own patterns as thinkers.

Give students a specific writing trigger that relates to your reading assignments, or lecture content, as a beginning place for their in class free writing. Once the students have marked down the trigger you have given them, check the clock, and ask them to start writing. The "rules" of this could be that the only wrong way to fulfill the in class assignment would be to not write for the entire time. Once the allotted time has passed, ask students to discuss the connections that came up for them from the free write.

Have students begin an informal in class piece of writing by giving them a series of questions to answer related to their research in your field. For example, you could ask them: What does your research suggest are the facts? How do you interpret the facts given the particulars of our course?

Ask students to brainstorm in small groups about one of their upcoming assignments for your class. Have each student write for 5 minutes on what they imagine will be most difficult about the assignment, and then use their writing as a starting place for small group discussions.

Invite students to free write about a difficult concept in their reading with the intended audience being their classmates. Next, ask them to free write on the same concept with the understanding that their audience would be a group wholly unfamiliar with the jargon and general information relevant to the concept. Ask them to think about what changes when they have to back up to explain the ideas involved.