If you’ve taught college writing and found effective ways to improve your students’ sentences, please share your methods!
As suggestions come in, I’ll post them on this page, organized by topic.
Please email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m looking forward to reading about your strategies.
- Teach them to slow down and pay closer attention to language by asking them to read a text aloud.
- See what skills each student needs to learn; assign students to teach lessons on those skills.
- Teach them to slow down and pay closer attention to language by asking them to read a text aloud. — submitted by John Maguire
Many students who commit truly ugly sentences are just not paying close attention to their own words. They have skimmed the meaning of emails and text messages for years without needing to attend to every syllable. When they come into a comp course they don’t know how to pay attention to words at the level needed.
To counteract that lack of attention, slow reading is needed.
I sometimes assign students to take a short passage home, and to go into the bathroom or some other quiet place, and read it aloud, slowly, twice. “Just read it slowly and notice the words going by as you say them,” I say. “Read every syllable and all the small words. Noticing words is important to being a writer.”
The assigned passage may be from a well-written professional or student essay. When I see the student next, either in class or after class, I ask him or her to tell me what the experience was like. “What did you notice when you did that?” I will ask.
2. See what skills each student needs to learn; assign students to teach lessons on those skills. — submitted by Joanmarie Kalter
I keep an eye out in early writing assignments for which kids have which grammar problems. One uses comma splices, another sentence fragments, another plural pronouns for singular nouns, etc. At a certain point in the semester, I hand out “lesson” assignments. The kids have to prepare a presentation on a specific grammar rule. Like you, I aim for those that are most critical to clear writing and try to match the lesson with the kid who needs it himself. Some kids get their own assignment, others are paired. They have to 1) explain the rule (in their own words), 2) give an example that’s inaccurate, 3) show how you’d correct it, 4) present another example for their classmates to correct on their own.
The presenters have to send their “lesson” to me before presenting so I can give it an okay, and also must submit some extra inaccurate/corrected examples. I usually have to give over 2 whole classes to the presentations, but the kids seem much less bored watching their classmates give a lesson than seeing me.
At the end of it, I compile their lessons into a “study guide” and upload it. Later, they have to study for a quiz. I first give a quick pre-quiz, and we go over the answers together, then on another day a quick “real” one. The questions on both are drawn from the examples the kids themselves have submitted.
As you can imagine, some do a bang-up job on their presentations, but in other cases I have to jump up and intervene to clarify or correct.