The following are samples of group writing activities offered by the Center for Instruction Development and Research at University of Washington at Seattle.

A. Ask students to work together revising a document that has already been written. This is a useful activity for work on focus, organization, support, and use of jargon. You might have them rewrite something for a different purpose or audience. You have the option of having them sit down together cold or work individually on the document beforehand and then pool their suggested changes.

B. Assign a group writing project. For example, instructors in sociology, speech communication and political science might divide their classes into 5 or 6 groups in order to investigate local problems or issues. Some students do the background research while other conThe most useful way to raise consciousness of texts as intermediary forms and to develop a method of critical reading is, simply put, to have students write continuously in a double entry notebook.... The reason for the double-entry format is that it provides a way for the student to conduct that ‘continuing audit of meaning’ that is at the heart of learning to read and write critically.

Ann Berthoff, The Making of Meaning

Unlike the customary journal or notebook, dialectical/double entry notebooks are named for the vertical line drawn down the page. dividing the functions. Actually, these notebooks have a variety of uses and involve attitudinal writing, questioning, summarizing, and process writing.

Such a notebook is frequently used to help students understand the course content, particularly when the material is difficult. I first came across this writing activity while attending a writing conference in New Jersey. The speaker, a biology teacher, had participated in a pilot Writing Across the Curriculum faculty training workshop at her community college. Somewhat skeptically, she admitted, she began the semester asking students to take notes from the text in the left-hand column of their notebooks. In the right-hand column, they wrote questions about the material. The instructor then used the question column as the basis for class discussion, clarifying what they did not understand rather than covering material that they did grasp. Unlike other semesters, she gave no quizzes that term. She collected the journals at intervals and quickly responded to the questions in the right-hand margin if students had not already done so from class discussions. The results? Test scores that semester averaged 8 points higher than previous semesters. And, she noted with emphasis, for the first time ever she did not fall behind on her syllabus!

Example #1

Text Summary Questions
Simple columns epithelium--rectangular with nuclei located near bases of cells. Line the digestive tract from the cardia of the stomach to the anus the gallbladder and excretory ducts of many glands. What is the cardia of the stomach? [Opening from esophagus to stomach]
Still another use is as an in-class activity. Have students write a concept or a sentence/short passage from the text across the top of a sheet of paper. Student #1 responds to the passage in the left-hand column; students then exchange papers with the second student responding to Student # l’s comments with her own in the left-hand column. They may want to exchange papers several times until they have exhausted their ideas on the subject. (I have had some of my liveliest class discussions after using this activity the first 15 minutes of class.)

Example #2: Passage from text: student to student

"Her soul is beginning to come of age, she thought; and within those moments she herself became much older, much nearer to her own death, and was content to be."

Student #1 Student #2
Mary had just previously made the realization that Jay might already be dead, whereas she was kind of talking herself out of the idea. This accounts for her thought of Mary’s beginning to come to age. Hannah thought she had already done this and it was almost as if she were looking down on Mary, as if she had become much older. And with this she was content with herself. I agree that Mary’s realization that Jay may be dead is what Hannah was referring to when she says that Mary is beginning to come of age, but I don’t think Hannah is looking down on Mary at all when she says she felt older. I think that she probably feels older because Mary has been like her own child to her, and when she realizes that Mary is mature enough to handle this situation, Hannah realizes that she herself is old.

One could also use this activity to have students summarize outside readings. The summaries would appear in the left-hand column; their questions, observations, and/or insights in the right-hand column. I have included an assignment and a student response as an illustration.

Example #3: Sample Student Handout/Assignment--Double Entry Notebook
from Center for Instructional Development & Research, University of Washington at Seattle

What is it?
a notebook in which you record information and ideas taken from readings, discussions (both inside and outside of class) lectures, films, television, and radio.
What is its purpose?
to provide an impetus to read, listen, and view thoughtfully and critically
to encourage verbal response to materials being studied
to provide a record of information and reactions that may be useful later for writing papers, for discussion participation, and for studying for exams.
How do you do it?
Use blank notebook paper. Make an entry once a week for material you have read or viewed related to our course of study. Each entry will have two parts: Record and React. Divide your page in half with Record in the left-hand column and React in the right-hand column.

The entry format for the Record column is:


Name of author / lecturer / program:

Pages read, length of program, source of program:

Main subject of what you have read, viewed, heard (this should be about a one-sentence position statement made by your source).

Summary of the main points and of the information and arguments given supporting the source’s position statement.

The entry format for the React column is:

Write your position statement on the subject.

Compare your position statement with the one in your source.

Explain your focus on this reading, lecture, program--why is it important, disturbing, controversial to you?

Relate the material to our course.

How will it be evaluated?
the instructor will evaluate two of your entries this term, and/or other students will help you select the two best entries to be evaluated.

Example #3: Sample student response--double entry notebook
from Center for Instructional Development and Research, University of Washington at Seattle

Date: 4/17/86
Name: Joseph Giovanni, New York Times Magazine
A Sense of Place. "The Material Art."

Subject: Architects across the country are using common. indigenous materials to convey a sense of place in the houses, public buildings, and furniture they are involved with.

Summary: Architects are now using materials that are strongly associated with a region or city to capture the spirit of the place. Use of indigenous materials gives buildings both feeling and meaning as well as identifies their whereabouts. Architecture is considered to be a material art and creatively used materials can convey a sense of place.

Traditionally, the materials used for construction were of local origin. They were easily found at hand and didn’t require freighting in. Typically, these were natural elements as opposed to those that were manufactured. Originally they were also the cheapest materials available. But they also reflected a care and craftsmanship that is missing from most contemporary materials.

Though cost is largely irrelevant today, many local or vernacular materials are purposely being used rather than international products in an effort to regain a sense of the basics. It is a move away from high-tech design and from the idea that machines will automatically produce a better product.

Vernacular materials are being used in furnishings, homes, and public buildings to create a feeling of regional uniqueness. An L.A. house with a kitchen floor of asphalt is an extreme but illustrative example.

Building materials are also seen as having a sense of social place and position. Buildings and architects can manipulate social imagery through their choice of materials. Plywood and marble combined in a table "would confound any passing Marxist."

The use of traditional materials to connect a building to its region gives it a social context. This makes a place "that helps people know where they are and by extension, who they are."

Position: I found this analysis to be very interesting. It provided me a new way of looking at the architecture around me. Though I have noticed differences in style and construction of the homes and buildings in areas I have visited, I seldom gave it much thought. Viewing materials as a means to create an environmental sense of place can, I believe, enhance our understanding of the built world that surrounds us.

Compare: The use of common or vernacular materials can heighten our sense of place in a city, a region, or a country. Awareness of this can enhance our feelings of belonging to a place, of having roots.

Explain: In a rapidly developing technological world where mobility and rootlessness are endemic, this movement back to basics in Architecture is reminiscent of the current trend of "country" furnishings and knickknacks. It is as though people, uneasy with a world and technology they are hard pressed to understand, are seeking the old, safe, comfortable stability of a known past. The obsession with hand crafts as opposed to computers further indicates this is a popular need.

Interestingly, the most contemporary architectural examples of new buildings in the Northwest, other than houses, do not seem to reflect this material art philosophy. Colubmis Center resembles a black glass, 2001 monolith and the Portland City Office Building is more reminiscent of the Nile than the Willamette River Valley.

Nevertheless, on a smaller scale, in homes and furniture, vernacular materials are used quite successfully to convey a sense of regional uniqueness. In the face of miles of motorhome communities, acres of cinderblock, suburban ramblers, and endless lines of white, plastic Italian chairs any effort that resists creeping homogeneity is a positive move.

Relate: The operational and perceptual environments in which we operate encompass a fantastic number of elements, many of which we are not fully aware. Buildings and furniture often just fill space and we are conscious of little else save their presence. Understanding the motives and materials used in design and architecture can provide us with yet another dimension of understanding the physical world.

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Answer the Question!
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