Each of my class sessions combines discussion, lessons, and writing. Here’s how I integrate the various elements.
- Discussion of the text the class read for homework.
- Sometimes I’ll ask a challenging question and give them a minute or two to write notes before we discuss.
- Sometimes I have them break into small groups first. The groups can explore different questions, or the same question. We then come back together to share findings.
- If the text uses writing strategies I want them to learn, we discuss those as well.
- Five minutes of in-class writing.
- I ask a question about the text, designed to inspire new thinking.
- The goal is to train them to think via writing, without worrying too much about grammar.
- Sometimes I’ll ask them to write before the main discussion, to generate ideas.
- To make sure that they actually write, rather than checking Facebook, etc. (which was a problem when I first used this activity), I announce at the first class meeting that I’ll collect their in-class writing three times during the semester. Reading their thoughts is often rewarding, and rarely boring.
- Lesson on a sentence skill.
- In each class, I cover one of the concepts listed on the Key Skills page.
- Art of the Sentence.
- I ask students to distill the best idea (or the main idea) from their in-class writing into one polished, grammatically correct sentence.
- This activity, described by Doug Lemov in his books Teach Like a Champion and Reading Reconsidered, forces students to pay close attention to a single sentence.
- Some instructors see it as a way to practice writing a thesis statement. To me, it’s just good practice polishing a sentence. Revising a whole essay can intimidate and overwhelm students, but here I’m only asking them to create and improve a single sentence.
- Because this is one of the most powerful instructional tools I’ve found, I make sure to include it in every session.
- Once they’ve finished, students post their sentences online and I project them on the screen. I use a website called Padlet, which puts each student’s work in a small window of its own.
- This can be done anonymously, or with student initials, or with silly nicknames. (I offer them the choice. The identifiers let me quickly point out specific sentences. They tend to enjoy making up outrageous nicknames.)
- I ask them to look at their own work again and see if they can improve it even more. Sometimes I give general tips; sometimes I’ll advise individual students to fix a specific problem.
- I ask them to read everyone else’s work: to learn from other people’s ideas and see how their classmates crafted their sentences.
- We discuss which sentences seem to be the most effective. To spread the encouragement as widely as possible, I also point out interesting insights, even when they’re not perfectly expressed.
- Lesson on an essay-writing skill (e.g., refining a thesis, or addressing opposing arguments).
- Discussion to prepare them for the text they’ll read for homework.
- Since the readings may seem remote from their interests, I try to find a way to connect the topic to their experience.
- If the reading is difficult, I provide background information.
- Sometimes we read the beginning together in class and discuss their first reactions.
Note about homework
If they have a draft of an essay due at the next class, I try not to give them other homework. Otherwise, I assign a reading and a brief written response. (Unless writing is required, many students will skip the reading.) I try to formulate questions that will prepare them for the next class discussion, and that can also serve as starting points for future essays.
I also ask them to review and practice whatever sentence skill I taught that day.