he following write-to-learn activities have been excerpted from Writing Across the Curriculum's Resource Binder for participating faculty. Many of the activities listed are so common in composition theory and pedagogy that their original source cannot be traced. If you know the origins of these activities, please contact the site manager so permission to publish can be requested and proper credit given to the original creator in our next site revision.

Write-to-Learn Activities

If we’re to be in the business of education rather than that of schooling, one of our long-range goals must be to help students become life-long learners. Developing their ability to use writing-to-learn and their confidence and enjoyment in the process and its results should then be one of the highest educational priorities. Learning is the quintessential human activity. Language is the most powerful learning tool we have. All students have a right to discover--or, perhaps, rediscover--the joys of learning and we should all recognize that writing-to-learn is one of the best means of helping them to do so.

-John Mayher, et. al.

It’s more difficult to convince teachers that writing is a learning process than it is to convince them that talk is, because so often teachers use writing as a way of testing. They use it to find out what students already know, rather than as a way of encouraging them to find out. The process of making the material their own--the process of writing--is demonstrably a process of learning.

-James Britton

The writing activities described in this section are designed to allow--perhaps even force--students to make language choices. It is precisely this process of language selection that makes the activities such valuable learning tools.

You will notice that these activities do not include copying or filling in the blanks--activities which research suggests consumes much writing time in our schools and is of limited learning value. The challenge of expressing ideas in writing places students at the center of their own learning, enabling them to master content and to improve their skill at expressing ideas. In addition, writing activities help students discover connections, discern processes, raise questions and discover solutions. The means through which this learning is achieved is invaluable; its effects, far-reaching.

If you haven’t used writing-to-learn activities before, I encourage you to experiment with some suggested here. The list is not exhaustive, by any means, and some of the ideas presented here will trigger others for you. Of course, you will want to vary the activities you have your students do. But whichever ones you select, you will want to spend a few minutes of class time incorporating the writing activity into the lesson, allowing students to see directly or indirectly how the writing seeks to enhance the learning objectives.

After students have written, call on several of them to read, not tell you in other words, what they have written. Doing so forces them to pay attention to how they have stated their ideas and encourages them to look at their written words. Calling on several students allows for a variety of responses, and you can use this activity to make your own connections between/among their responses.

One word of warning is in order, however: Do not make judgmental comments, either good or bad, after students have read. Remember that you are encouraging them to commit ideas to paper. You do not want to make them anxious or resent the activity because the person who read first received a "Great!" response from you and the next person didn’t. A simple "Thank you for sharing" works well as you proceed to call on the next person or to tie what has been said in with the day’s lesson.

Experiment with these writing activities. Some of them will work better for your particular discipline than others. but you have a range of options available. And you’ll think of others along the way. A combination of writing to learn activities used efficiently and effectively, is guaranteed to spark additional interest in your courses.

Freewriting & Focused Freewriting
Entry Slips/Exit Slips
Reader-Response Writing
The Sentence/Passage Springboard
Writing Definitions to Empower the Student
Student-Formulated Questions
The Short Summary
Group Writing Activities
Dialectical/Double Entry Notebooks
Answer the Question!
Clarification/Review Letters

Writing Across the Curriculum is indebted to Connie White from Salisbury for these introductory paragraphs.

Contact site manager Joe Essid, jessid@richmond.edu