Monthly Archives: October 2012

Tip #3: Are there other kinds of writing students can do besides essays?

There are many types of writing that you can infuse into your courses.  While the level of reflection varies in these different types, you can still  gain many of the benefits of WAC with even a short writing assignment. Here are some writing activities that don’t require much time and preparation of instructors, but that still can deepen students’ learning[1]:

  • “Talk-back” notes: jotting down important points, confusing spots, places of disagreement as if talking to the author.
  • Reading logs: making regular, free-choice responses that link personal experiences with the content of texts.
  • Focused reading notes:  tracking a key theme or concept in a flow chart or under column headings.
  • Summary/response notebooks: dividing a page in half to summarize on one side and to comment on the other.
  • Interviews: inventing questions & using a text to provide the “interview responses.”
  • Genre switching: responding creatively to a traditional text format, e.g. the autobiography of a pancreas, a poem about an isosceles triangle, a newsletter about what students learned in a 3-week period in chemistry.
  • Microthemes: summarizing reading assignments concisely on note cards.
  • Translations: writing a difficult passage in one’s own words, deliberately avoiding any language that the author uses.
  • Explications of visual aids: interpreting the meaning of a graph, map, table, image, etc.—or designing a visual aid to clarify a particularly challenging textual passage.
  • Multiple-choice or short-essay questions:  turning in weekly questions on reading assignments that become part of an exam the next week.
  • Headline essays: collecting newspaper or magazine headlines on a topic (e.g. math in the news) and writing a short summary of how those headlines add up.
  • Visual to Verbal Mini-projects: Putting together posters, power-point slides, or handouts that summarize a reading assignment.  Students orally present, then write reflections on what they learned.
  • Ticket-out-the-Door:  writing down the key lesson from the day’s class and/or questions or lingering confusions.  Instructors collect these before students leave class.

Tip #2: How do I manage all of those writing assignments?!

Responding to and/or evaluating student writing need not take a great deal of your time [1].

  • Provide most of your feedback informally as students plan and write, then evaluate the final product quickly.
  • Having conferences with students saves you time and can increase clarity, as they can ask you questions. You can hold quick in-class conferences while students work individually or in groups.
  • Build in other readers before you. Have students receive feedback from their peers; recommend or require that they attend the Writing Center.
  • Not all writing has to be long. Rather than assigning one very long paper, assign several short ones or have them write a series of drafts, of which you read only one. Rather than only requiring “formal” writing, have them do more informal writing which may be used in class, or collected at random.
  • Don’t read everything you have your students write. Collect, read and grade their writing randomly.
  • Prioritize. Decide what is most important to you in each assignment (Format? Clarity? Demonstration of knowledge? Audience awareness? Spelling?) and evaluate based on your top priorities.
  • Don’t evaluate or comment on everything in a paper; focus your evaluation on two or three aspects that are most important to you (and that you identified as being most important in making the assignment).
  • Don’t correct students’ errors for them. Point out the most significant shortcomings in the paper (based on your priorities) briefly, then require that they make the corrections.

[1] From

Tip #1: What is WAC & why should I do it?

What is Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)?

Writing Across the Curriculum is a pedagogical approach based on the beliefs that writing[1]:

  • is an critical method of learning,
  • should occur throughout students’ academic careers and in all of their courses, and
  • is discipline specific. Students should have opportunities to practice writing conventions specific to the various disciplines.

Why should I incorporate more writing in my classes[2]?

  • Writing can deepen students’ thinking and engagement with course material.
  • Reading students’ writing helps instructors get to know their students better on a personal level.
  • Reading students’ writing offers a view into students’ ideas and areas of confusion, including students who don’t normally participate in class discussions.
  • Writing asks students to organize their thoughts, evaluate ideas, elaborate their points (among other tasks) and these are skills that need to be practiced regularly in order to be maintained.

[1] Adapted from Jaclyn Wells, Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab – Purdue University. Material found at:

[2] Adapted from Brad Hughes, L&S Program in Writing Across the Curriculum – UW at Madison. Materials found at:

Welcome to Cañada College WAC!

The Cañada College Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) blog is a resource for faculty on effectively increasing the presence of writing in their courses. On a semi-monthly basis from October to December 2012, there will be a new post related to designing and managing writing assignments in all academic subject areas.

Please join the blog and feel free to send in requests for information related to WAC.


Julie Wilson, Writing Coordinator – Cañada College Learning Center

[Schedule: Mondays (4:30-8pm), Tuesdays (11-1:30), and Thursdays (10-7pm)]