Tips for Using Writing in Large Classes
From Chris Thaiss, [formerly] Interim Director of Composition/English at Mason
- To focus and maintain student attention during lectures and other presentations.
- To help overcome the anonymity that often occurs in large classes among students and between teacher and student.
- To give students regular practice in writing to conceptualize and synthesize.
- To help the teacher track student needs for clarification of concepts.
- To enable teacher feedback to students, while minimizing “paper load.”
- “Discussion Starters” and “Class Closers”—quick, informal assignments at start of class (to focus attention)
and end of class (to summarize/synthesize); may be collected but need not be (see “quick reads”).
- “Quick Reads”—occasional skimming of “class closers” by teacher to check participation and see where students
might need additional explanation in next class.
- “Note-making vs. Note-taking”—classtime spent early in course to teach students how best to take notes and
then revise them for better understanding (Farrington).
- “Log, ‘Blog,’ or Online Forum”—using WebCT, Townhall, or student webpages for weekly brief responses to teacher
- “Break Writes”—occasionally stopping mid-lecture for students to question, clarify, and synthesize writing.
- “Think-write, Pair, Share”—occasional time given to student in-class comparison of their “discussion starters”
or “break writes,” usually in pairs but also in small groups.
- “Microthemes” (formal and informal)—occasional mini-essays (250 words max.) that ask for definitions/syntheses/applications
of concepts; informal for practice, formal for “quiz” grades (Bean).
- “Grid-grading”—reduces grading time and standardizes grading by awarding points according to list of assignment
criteria on scoring summary sheet.
- None of these techniques allows for personalized attention or for careful feedback/revision; hence, these needs must be
met in smaller classes in the discipline, such as the WI classes.
- If a student assistant is hired to work individually with students on projects and revision OR as a grader, that
assistant will need to be carefully trained in order to replicate teacher’s criteria OR to be given autonomy in grading.
- It is not recommended that assistant read first drafts and teacher grade revised drafts—research (e.g., Henry) shows
that different criteria will be applied and students will be confused, not helped.
- Bean, John. Engaging Ideas. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
- Farrington, Mark. “Note-taking and Note-making in Freshman Composition,” Journal of the Virginia Writing Project, Nov.-Dec. 1999, 16ff.
- Henry, Jim. “A Narratological Analysis of WAC Authorship,” College English 5 (1994), 810-824.
- Thaiss, Chris. The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing across the Curriculum. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1998.
RETURN TO TEACHING WITH WRITING: PRACTICES