Among the skills many college graduates are seen to lack when they enter the workforce after graduation, writing proficiency tops the list. As a First-Year writing instructor, teaching critical reading and writing is, of course, my main objective. Yet this instruction shouldn’t end for students after they’ve completed their foundational writing courses. Instructors at all levels, and in all disciplines, should reinforce and build upon this—particularly in the humanities as developing strong writers and thoughtful readers are where we can shine.
Here are some quick activities you can incorporate into your courses now to help your students:
Build Reading Skills
Even students with strong reading comprehension skills struggle when making the transition from reading popular sources to scholarly ones. They can become overwhelmed by unfamiliar language and syntax, and some give up rather than struggle through it. To help combat some of this anxiety, having your students annotate a reading as a group can be helpful. By reading and annotating the source as a group—either in class or online using a collaborative tool like Google Docs—students can build their confidence in reading difficult texts. Students aren’t only in a conversation with the text itself, but also with each other as they view and respond to their peer’s annotations.
Build Writing Skills
Blank pages intimidate most writings. Freewriting is a well-known and easy-to-use technique that can ease all aspects of the writing process from initially engaging with ideas to brainstorming for an assignment. Freewriting can be broad, where students are simply given a few minutes at the start of class to write on any topic they wish, or focused, where a question or series of questions direct their writing time. Both have benefits. Often, I begin class by putting a question on the board relating to the day’s work then ask them to spend a few minutes writing their thoughts before our discussion begins. The only rule, I tell them, is that they must write the whole time, even if they just rewrite the previous sentence until something new comes to mind. As an added bonus, freewriting can help quieter students contribute to class since they’ve had time to gather their thoughts before speaking.
Provide Useful Feedback
When reading student essays, seeing errors is easy. But, pointing out every error made by a student in a given writing assignment takes a lot of time—and too many comments can be unhelpful. Students respond best, and learn the most, when they’re given just a few pointed pieces of feedback that reinforce what they’re doing well, while also offering a point or two of criticism. While grammar errors often seem glaring, try not to focus on them too much.
Elizabeth Martin is an Instructional Specialist in the Writing Studies Department at Montclair State University in New Jersey and a staff writer for American Mircoreviews & Interviews. She received her M.F.A. from William Paterson University. Her journalism has appeared in Parsippany Life, Neighbor News and The Suburban Trends. Her creative writing has been published by Neworld Review, Hot Metal Bridge and Menacing Hedge, among others. She’s the recipient of two New Jersey Press Association awards. Currently, she’s at work on a collection of essays.