Teaching with Writing

While formal writing assignments outside of the classroom can be excellent tools for teaching and learning, there are also ways to effectively use writing in the classroom. By building short, informal writing activities into your lesson plans, you can help students understand important concepts and think through complex material. Since these writing activities are quick and do not require grading or correcting, incorporating them into your class does not require an extensive time commitment. You may choose to collect these writing activities and use them to assess student understanding of course material, or you can simply ask students to read their writing out loud to the class to generate discussion. Just five or ten minutes of class time spent writing can help students develop skills to comprehend and remember key points, make connections between reading assignments or lectures, and effectively express their ideas about what they're learning.

Benefits of Using Writing in Class

  • It helps students to learn and retain key concepts from the course, and to think critically about those ideas.
  • It helps students to develop communication skills that are valuable in any academic or workplace setting, and to learn the writing conventions of your specific discipline.
  • It helps you to gage student understanding of course material and identify concepts that need more elaboration.

How to Use Writing in Class

There are a number of ways to effectively use writing in the classroom. Below are some of the most common examples:

Writing in Class Uses

Drive and Focus Discussion

When starting a discussion, ask students to freewrite about the important points they remember from the reading assignment or previous lecture.

When students seem confused or frustrated by the reading assignment, ask them to freewrite about what they do understand about the reading and/or to generate questions they have about the reading. Alternatively, you can ask students to write on specific questions related to important concepts in the reading assignment. By asking them to write on the same questions at the end of class, you can also see how their understanding of the reading has improved and which concepts they are still confused about.

When a discussion seems to be going in several different directions, has gone off on a tangent, or is being dominated by just a few students, ask students to spend a few minutes freewriting about the key ideas brought up in the discussion or about what they think would be the most productive direction for the conversation to take. This can help students focus the conversation more productively, and allows you the opportunity to redirect the discussion.

Reinforce Concepts

Ask students to summarize the reading or lecture, share their summaries with a partner, and help each other fill in the gaps.

Ask students to record the steps of a problem or process as they are working through it. This can also work as a Write/Pair/Share, as students can help each other identify holes or weaknesses in their problem-solving processes.

Assess Student Comprehension

At the beginning of class, ask students to summarize the most important points from the reading or previous lecture.

At the end of class, ask students to summarize the most important points from the days lecture and/or to identify ideas they are still confused about.

Further Resources 

The WAC Clearinghouse: Examples of Writing to Learn Activities

University of Richmond Writing Across the Curriculum: Write to Learn Activities