Efficient Ways to Improve Student Writing

Strategies, Ideas, and Recommendations from the faculty Development Literature

General Strategies

  • View the improvement of students’ writing as your responsibility.
    Teaching writing is not only the job of the English department alone.  Writing is an essential tool for learning a discipline and helping students improve their writing skills is a responsibility for all faculty.
  • Let students know that you value good writing.
    Stress the importance of clear, thoughtful writing. Faculty who tell students that good writing will be rewarded and poor writing will be penalized receive better essays than instructors who don’t make such demands. In the syllabus, on the first day, and throughout the term, remind students that they must make their best effort in expressing themselves on paper. Back up your statements with comments on early assignments that show you really mean it, and your students will respond.
  • Regularly assign brief writing exercises in your classes.
    To vary the pace of a lecture course, ask students to write a few minutes during class. Some mixture of in-class writing, outside writing assignments, and exams with open-ended questions will give students the practice they need to improve their skills.
  • Provide guidance throughout the writing process.
    After you have made the assignment, discuss the value of outlines and notes, explain how to select and narrow a topic, and critique the first draft, define plagiarism as well.
  • Don’t feel as though you have to read and grade every piece of your students’ writing.
    Ask students to analyze each other’s work during class, or ask them to critique their work in small groups. Students will learn that they are writing in order to think more clearly, not obtain a grade. Keep in mind, you can collect students’ papers and skim their work.
  • Find other faculty members who are trying to use writing more effectively in their courses.
    Pool ideas about ways in which writing can help students learn more about the subject matter. See if there is sufficient interest in your discipline to warrant drawing up guidelines. Students welcome handouts that give them specific instructions on how to write papers for a particular course or in a particular subject area.


  • Remind students that writing is a process that helps us clarify ideas.
    Tell students that writing is a way of learning, not an end in itself. Also let them know that writing is a complicated, messy, nonlinear process filled with false starts. Help them to identify the writer’s key activities:
  • Developing ideas
  • Finding a focus and a thesis
  • Composing a draft
  • Getting feedback and comments from others
  • Revising the draft by expanding ideas, clarifying meaning, reorganizing
  • Editing
  • Presenting the finished work to readers
  • Explain that writing is hard work.
    Share with your class your own struggles in grappling with difficult topics. If they know that writing takes effort, they won’t be discouraged by their own pace or progress. One faculty member shared with students their notebook that contained the chronology of one of his published articles: first ideas, successive drafts, submitted manuscript, reviewers’ suggested changes, revised version, galley proofs, and published article.
  • Give students opportunities to talk about their writing.
    Students need to talk about papers in progress so that they can formulate their thoughts, generate ideas, and focus their topics. Take five or ten minutes of class time for students to read their writing to each other in small groups or pairs. It’s important for students to hear what their peers have written.
  • Encourage students to revise their work.
    Provide formal steps for revision by asking students to submit first drafts of papers for your review or for peer critique. You can also give your students the option of revising and rewriting one assignment during the semester for a higher grade. Faculty report that 10 to 40 percent of the students take advantage of this option.
  • Explain thesis statements.
    A thesis statement makes an assertion about some issue. A common student problem is to write papers that present overviews of facts with no thesis statement or that have a diffuse thesis statement.
  • Stress clarity and specificity.
    The more the abstract and difficult the topic, the more concrete the student’s language should be. Inflated language and academic jargon camouflage rather than clarify their point.
  • Explain the importance of grammar and sentence structure, as well as content.
    Students shouldn’t think that English teachers are the only judges of grammar and style. Tell your students that you will be looking at both quality of their writing and the content.
  • Distribute bibliographies and tip sheets on good writing practices.
    Check with your English department or writing center to identify materials that can be easily distributed to students. Consider giving your students a bibliography of writing guides, for example:

Ask a composition instructor to give a presentation to your students.

  • Invite a guest speaker from the composition department or student learning center to talk to your students about effective writing and common writing problems. Faculty who have invited these experts report that such presentations reinforce the values of the importance of writing.
  • Let students know about available tutoring services.
    Individual or group tutoring in writing is available on most campuses. Ask someone from the tutoring center to give a demonstration in your class.
  • Use computers to help students write better.
    Locally developed and commercially available software are now being used by faculty to help students plan, write, and revise their written work. Some software available allows instructors to monitor students’ work in progress and lets students collaborate with their classmates.

Assigning In-Class Writing Activities

  • Ask students to write what they know about a topic before you discuss it.
    Ask your students to write a brief summary of what they already know or what opinions they hold regarding the subject you are about to discuss. The purpose of this is to focus the students’ attention, there is no need to collect the summaries.
  • Ask students to respond in writing to questions you pose during class.
    Prior to class starting, list two or three short-answer questions on the board and ask your students to write down their responses. Your questions might call for a review of material you have already discussed or recalling information from assigned readings.
  • Ask students to write from a pro or con position.
    When presenting an argument, stop and ask your students to write down all the reasons and evidence they can think of that supports one side or the other. These statements can be used as the basis for discussion.
  • During class, pause for a three-minute write.
    Periodically ask students to write freely for three minutes on a specific question or topic. They should write whatever pops into their mind without worrying about grammar, spelling, phrasing, or organization. This kind of free writing, according to writing experts, helps students synthesize diverse ideas and identify points they may not understand. There is no need to collect these exercises.
  • Have students write a brief summary at the end of class.
    At the end of the class period, give your students index cards to jot down the key themes, major points, or general principles of the day’s discussion. You can easily collect the index cards and review them to see whether the class understood the discussion.
  • Have one student keep minutes to be read at the next class meeting.
    By taking minutes, students get a chance to develop their listening, synthesizing, and writing skills. Boris (1983) suggests the following:
  • Prepare your students by having everyone take careful notes for the class period, go home and rework them into minutes, and hand them in for comments. It can be the students’ discretion whether the minutes are in outline or narrative form.
  • Decide on one to two good models to read or distribute to the class.
  • At the beginning of each of the following classes, assign one student to take minutes for the period.
  • Give a piece of carbon paper to the student who is taking minutes so that you can have a rough copy. The student then takes the original home and revises it in time to read it aloud at the next class meeting.
  • After the student has read their minutes, ask other students to comment on their accuracy and quality. If necessary, the student will revise the minutes and turn in two copies, one for grading and one for your files.
  • Structure small group discussion around a writing task.
    For example, have your students pick three words that are of major importance to the day’s session. Ask your class to write freely for two to three minutes on just one of the words. Next, give the students five to ten minutes to meet in groups to share what they have written and generate questions to ask in class.
  • Use peer response groups.
    Divide your class into groups of three or four, no larger. Ask your students to bring to class enough copies of a rough draft of a paper for each person in their group. Give your students guidelines for critiquing the drafts. In any response task, the most important step is for the reader to note the part of the paper that is the strongest and describe to the writer why it worked so well. The following instructions can also be given to the reader:
  • State the main point of the paper in a single sentence
  • List the major subtopics
  • Identify confusing sections of the paper
  • Decide whether each section of the paper has enough detail, evidence, and information
  • Indicate whether the paper’s points follow one another in sequence
  • Judge the appropriateness of the opening and concluding paragraphs
  • Identify the strengths of the paper

Written critiques done as homework are likely to be more thoughtful, but critiques may also be done during the class period.

  • Use read-around groups.
    Read-around groups are a technique used with short assignments (two to four pages) which allows everyone to read everyone else’s paper. Divide the class into groups no larger than four students and divide the papers (coded for anonymity) into as many sets as there are groups. Give each group a set and ask the students to read each paper silently and decide on the best paper in the set. Each group should discuss their choices and come to a consensus on the best paper. The paper’s code number is recorded by the group, and the same process is repeated with a new set of papers. After all the groups have read all the sets of papers, someone from each group writes on the board the code number from the best paper in each set. The recurring numbers are circled. Generally, one to three papers stand out.
  • Ask students to identify the characteristics of effective writing.
    After completing the read-around activity, ask your students to reconsider those papers which were voted as excellent by the entire class and to write down features that made each paper outstanding. Write their comments on the board, asking for elaboration and probing vague generalities. In pairs, the students discuss the comments on the board and try to put them into categories such as organization, awareness of audience, thoroughness of detail, etc. You might need to help your students arrange the characteristics into meaningful categories.

Sources

The Strategies, Ideas and Recommendations Here Come Primarily From:

Gross Davis, B. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1993.

And These Additional Sources…

Boris, E. Z. “Classroom Minutes: A Valuable Teaching Device.” Improving College and

UniversityTeaching, 1983,31(2), 70-73.

Elbow, P. “Using Writing to Teach Something Else.” Unpublished paper, 1987.

Hawisher, G. E., and Selfe, C. L. (eds.).Critical Perspectives on Computers and

Composition Instruction.  New York:  Teachers College Press, 1989.

Holdstein, D. H., and Selfe, C. L. (eds.). Computers and Writing: Theory, Research,

Practice. New York: Modern Language Association, 1990.

Lowman, J. Mastering the Techniques of Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984.

Petersen, B. T. “Additional Resources in the Practice of Writing Across the Disciplines.”

In C. W. Griffin (ed.), Teaching Writing in All Disciplines. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, no. 12. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982.

Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.

Bright Idea Network, 1989. (For information contact David Graf, Iowa State University, Ames.)

Pytlik, B. P. “Teaching Teachers of Writing: Workshops on Writing as a Collaborative

Process.” College Teaching, 1989, 37(1), 12-14.

Tollefson, S. K. Encouraging Student Writing. Berkeley: Office of Educational

Development, University of California, 1988.

Walvoord, B. F. Helping Students Write Well: A Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines.

(2nd ed.) New York: Modern Language Association, 1986.

Watkins, B. T. “More and More Professors in Many Academic Disciplines Routinely

Require Students to Do Extensive Writing.”Chronicle of Higher Education, 1990, 36(44), pp. A13-14, A16.

 

Advertisements

Guidelines to prepare a review of a book

Review is an account of a book. Review usually done by critics. It appears in magazines and newspapers. The review should give a subject matter of a book and how the subject matter is treated by author. A good review should five details about merits and demerits of literary work. It is strictly a personal critic view. Sometimes it goes wrong. The review comes only about a literary work. If a review is about a particular novel, it should give the details about the plot, characterization, settings, places, dialogue, and presentation of directors. Subject matters are included. Some background information about the author and his other works would be desirable. A review is the critical evaluation of a literary work.

Influence of Cinema in India

Cinema is by far the most common and cheapest means of entertainment in cities in India. The maximum we Indians can look to cinema is as an exposition of art. In a country like India, where most people are illiterate and so poor that they can ill afford any other recreation, Cinema has taken its toll.
Poor, hard pressed and illiterate people find that the cinema is the only means by which they can break the monotony and drudgery or their routine mundane lives.
The village or urban labor class are casual about pictures because they do not have the time, the means or occasion to dabble with any of the luxuries they see on the cinema screen. However, it is the urban lower class and small children of all classes who treat movies as something more than mere entertainers. Thus we see that the urban population is mostly influenced by the cinema.
The influence of cinema cannot be underestimated for; cinema is a visual aid to learning. So what is seen on the cinema screen is automatically assimilated by those who see the picture. Now, what is to be measured is the depth and amount of influence on different individuals. As we all know the most impressionable people are the illiterates and the young minds so, when picture are seen by the masses, the greatest and deepest influence is on the young and illiterate, while all other categories only get their share of entertainment and forget about it all. The educated may view the cinema as an art, besides it being entertainment but the influence on the illiterate and children is seen in their trying to copy or imitate what they see. Besides, these categories also start visualizing the screen to be a picture of real life which leads them to disappointment and frustration.
The cinema being a very important visual aid can play a vital role in educating the masses. If pictures are based on realities and deal with society evils and the like, the impressionable minds will understand life and society better, and the cinema will be playing its role. The cinema can play a positive educative role in the spheres of photography, art, dancing and singing and this would be a positive contribution of cinema to the teaching of all these fine arts.
What we said in the previous paragraphs is just what could be achieved by the cinema as its influence is tremendous. However, at least in India the influence is just the opposite Cinema is not at all educative in its role instead, it is only influencing impressionable minds in the negative. That would go to mean that, the quality of our cinema is very low. The impressionable minds are, as expected, learning what they see in the cinema. They behave as they see, they dress as they see and act as they see. So, the influence is undoubtedly full and complete but absolutely negative. This has to be because, the young and the illiterate learn and ape all of what they see as, they do not possess the capacity to clean the hay from the chaff.
Another very dampening effect of the cinema today is in causing depressions, frustrations and then suicides. People who see that life is all roses as depicted ok the screen, life is all glamour and money, expect the same from life for themselves. When this is not to be, they are sadly disappointed with what life has to offer them in reality.
Cinema can be of great utility and influence if the cinemas made are educative and provide clean entertainment, clean songs and dances of some standard. However, in our country, like all other things, cinema has also become an industry highly commercialized each picture produced must be a commercial hit no matter what it may all be about. The producers and directors get together to produce picture to earn a fortune and not to provide quality education or entertainment for people. This is why today the picture we see are mostly those which cater to the lower classes if people, and children, as, only they can be frivolous and appreciate as fun, meaningless gestures and overtures.
Thus, the influence of cinema has got to be tremendous and it is being so. We are getting the return of our cinemas in all our crimes and violence and sex. So it is playing its role of teaching no doubt but what, is just nobody’s business. If the cinema has to play the role it is meant to play, the quality of cinema must improve no matter ever if quantity is not retained. It is not important to know how much we learn, it is all important to know what all we learn, as the influence of cinema is great and irreparable.