Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cover Memos for Essays

As your students begin submitting midterm and final papers, consider having them complete a Cover Memo alongCanadaCollegeLogo with their paper. Cover Memos are a short set of questions that invite students to think meta-cognitively about their writing, hopefully helping them process and learn more from the experience. It can also guide the responses you give to each student’s writing, which may decrease the amount of time you spend responding to student paper.


Author Feedback (

• Describe what are you trying to accomplish with this paper? What do you want the reader to take away from this paper? How do you hope the reader will be changed after reading your paper?

• What do you think are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of this piece of writing right now? What do you like about it? What did you struggle with as you wrote it? What areas do you want the reader to pay special attention to as he or she responds?

• What kind of feedback would be most helpful to you at this stage?


Here are some additional questions to consider:

• What was your experience writing this paper? Which aspects do you feel good/confident about? Which aspects do you feel concerned /less confident about?

• How did you use the feedback you received from your classmates?

• If you could start this assignment over or if you had further time to develop it, what would you do with it?

• What was your drafting and revising process like? On which aspects of this assignment did you spend the most time?

• What kind of feedback would you like from me?

Considering the Context of Texts

CanadaCollegeLogoSource: Taylor, Catherine G. (2004). Critical Literacy and the Un/Doing of Academic Discourse. Ethnologies, 26, 1, 125-143.

Taylor is situated within the socio-cultural perspective on schooling, emphasizing critical literacy, which for her, “emphasizes reading and writing as activities for personal empowerment and social transformation” (p. 125). “Critical educators currently use it across the curriculum and throughout educational levels as a method of teaching already-literate people how to think critically about language and perhaps spark a passion for social change” (p. 126).

Taylor provides a specific set of questions for students to consider about the way text is written:
• Who benefits from the way this story is told?
• Who’s telling the story? What different does that make?
• Whose voices are heard, and whose aren’t? What difference does that make?
• What relevant factors are missing? What difference does that make?
• What kind of evidence is offered? What kind of evidence is not offered?
• What is treated as a root cause? Who benefits from that?
• What is left until the end (when most readers have stopped reading) or barely acknowledged?
• How else could this story have been told? What difference would that make? (p131)

These questions invite students to read below the surface of a text and to analyze/evaluate the choices and moves a writer makes. As students consider questions like the ones Taylor offers here, they are prompted to think more critically about text – something we ALL want for our students.

Academic Word List

The Academic Word List (AWL) are the most frequently appearing word in academic texts written in English, initially compiled by Averil Coxhead from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand . The words are divided into sub-lists based on how often they occur. As an example, here is Sub-list #1:

sector          available          financial          process          individual          specific          principle          estimate          variables          method

data              research           contract          environment      export          source            assessment     policy               identified        create

derived       factors              procedure      definition      assume                theory            benefit             evidence         established      authority

major           issues                 labor                occur              economic           involved       percent             interpretation                           consistent

income        structure          legal                 concept         formula               section           required          constitutional                            analysis

distribution   function       area                  approach       role                      legislation     indicate            response           period             context

significant   similar


It is interesting for students to consider these words, whether native English speaker or not, because it can help focus the exact denotation of vocabulary words, as well as the impact of connotation on meaning. Word choice is clearly something student writers should consider based on their audience and purpose.

On-line exercises for students to practice using the words on the AWL can be found at:

Conversacolor – Metacognitive Discussion Tool

“Conversacolor1 is a highly structured form of class discussion that is extraordinarily simple in design. Each student is given a set of colored cards with which to ‘play’ during a class discussion. A color is assigned to each kind of statement that migCanadaCollegeLogoht occur in discussion: a statement of a new idea (red), a statement that develops an idea (green), a transition between ideas (orange). When the student raises her hand to speak, she must be holding the ‘correct’ color card for the kind of statement she plans to make. In addition, there is a card (yellow) that allows others to challenge the student’s color choice if it seems her statement does not match the color used, and a special card to request clarification of terms (purple). By insisting that a card accompany each contribution to class discussion, this game encourages students to classify their own statements in relationship with the comments of their peers, and engage in meta-cognitive work on the kind of statement they wish to make. Furthermore, the teacher can relinquish the facilitator role and become a player in the class.

The game begins with someone offering a statement or question to the class on the given topic. That person then calls on the next speaker, with each subsequent speaker called on by the previous. This lack of a single facilitator is important, for each person can thus choose how the discussion will unfold. As I write in the instructions: ‘Want to see your point developed? Choose someone holding a green card; want to have the last word on that idea and move somewhere else? Choose a red card holder.’ The game insists that students take responsibility for the direction of the conversation. However, if a challenge (yellow) or clarification (purple) card is held up, these get priority over all others, with purple getting priority over yellow. If there is a challenge, the class must vote on whether they agree with the challenger, or whether the original speaker used the correct card.”

Conversacolor is a fairly sophisticated level of discussion and students must be supported to execute it in ways that are beneficial to them. However, by participating in this kind of discussion, students are invited to think metacognitively about talk, which can be translated to their writing. This strategy can also provide a class with a “color-coded” language for talking about ways to develop their writing.

1. Excerpted from Scheinberg, Cynthia. “NTLF Vol. 12 No. 6 2003 – Carnegie Chronicle.” NTLF Vol. 12 No. 6 2003 – Carnegie Chronicle. National Teaching and Learning Forum, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.