Faculty Writing Teaching Writing

Resources and Reflections from the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2016, Part 2

Image via The New York Times Learning Network
Image via The New York Times Learning Network

Emily Chambers is a former WAC GRA and is studying for her M.A. in Teaching Writing and Literature. Her main interests are faculty development and curriculum resources. Prior to coming to GMU, she taught sixth grade English in Culpeper County, VA; now she teaches composition at GMU. She can be reached at

Each year, teachers who participate in the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Study Institute (NVWP ISI) create an incredible number of resources, and this year was no different. At the ISI, each teacher consultant (as graduates of the ISI are called) presents a demonstration of a writing lesson they have successfully taught in their classroom. This year, teacher consultants presented on everything from found poetry, to improv, to visual literacy. Each lesson is focused on teaching a writing skill to all students; what follows is a sample of just a few of those lessons.


Instead of directing class discussions herself, one teacher consultant turned the tables on students. After instruction on types of questions, she asked students to create questions. Students answered questions on their own before discussing the questions together. The teacher consultant was amazed at the ownership, higher-order thinking, and engagement of all students in this activity. It allows all students to collaborate after preparing individually, which can help more reticent students be willing to engage. This strategy for class discussions is easily adapted to any reading or topic.

Authentic Writing*

Several teacher consultant’s crafted unique writing assignments for students that required them to engage with the world outside the classroom in authentic ways. These assignments help students understand the power and importance of writing in the “real” world. In one such assignment, students write profiles after interviewing someone in their community. In another, students write “This I Believe” essays based on the NPR series. Beyond these specific writing prompt assignments, students often need help creating topics and research questions from their interests. To address this, another teacher consultant used a chart from Kelly Galleghr to help students map out different genre approaches to their favorite topic. The genre chart would help students in a composition class to brainstorm topics, or students in a WI course map writing prompts within their field.

Visualizing Lessons

Using visual writing prompts became a sort of theme among teacher consultant presentations this year, which reflects the visual nature of many current publications. These demo lessons included a nontraditional mapping project, a lesson on using visual prompts with English Language Learners, and one on using primary source analysis to write. One teacher consultant focused solely on visual literacy, engaging students in perplexing photos (such as the one above) to examine the photos’ narratives, counternarratives, and other thought explorations. Each of these prompts recasts writing in a new way that allows students to see it afresh or to craft original pieces from visual inspiration. These lessons could be used to help students revise their writing or could be used as low-stakes writing prompts.

Guided Freewrites

Though I have participated in many freewrites, the Institute was my first experience of guided freewrites. In a freewrite, the participant tries to write without stopping within the given time. The director of the freewrite will occasionally remind participants of the time remaining, but nothing else. In a guided freewrite, the director gives an initial prompt, then periodically interrupts with suggestions of things to incorporate into the participants’ writing. I found this to be very effective: the freewrite and time limit forced me into the act of writing, and the suggestions provided challenges or inspiration to incorporate into my writing. One such guided freewrite we experienced at the NVWP ISI was Progroff Journaling, given by Dave Arbogast. Guided freewrites have a clear application in the classroom: when you give students a low-stakes prompt, try suggesting insertions as they write, but remind them that they are not required to use them, either. Consider allowing students a chance to share their writing afterwards as well.

Help students understand their writing process

It’s important for students to understand their writing processes in order to know themselves and their writing better. Sometimes this knowledge leads them to see the ways they are inhibiting their own writing or to change ineffective writing habits. At other times, this knowledge builds community in the classroom and helps build resilience as writers. NVWP Director Sarah Baker led us in a demonstration lesson that explored how we write. Many of the prompts here (What is your writing animal? Who are the characters in your head as you write?) can be used as low-stakes writing prompts, especially at the beginning of the semester. They would also be interesting to revisit throughout the semester as students’ writing process morph.

These resources from the NVWP ISI 2016 are not comprehensive of all the resources shared, but they do point to the rich resources available in other teachers. How often do we ask fellow teachers for support? How can we create a community of collaboration among teachers? The NVWP is one place to start, along with the resources from WAC on our blog and Facebook, and those available from CTFE at Mason.

*for more on authentic writing, see

This is part 2 in a series of reflections by Emily on her time with the NVWP ISI this summer. See part one here for an overview of the NVWP ISI 2016.

To get involved in the NVWP, visit Plan to attend the Language and Learning Conference in March. For more resources on the NVWP ISI 2016, visit the three co-directors’ blogs: Peter Anderson, Jen Orr, and Michelle Haseltine.  Or visit fellow-participant Katlyn Howes Bennett’s blog here.