Many Writing Skills classes benefit from taking a page from the creative writing class structure. Writing Groups and Writing Workshops will support your ever-evolving student writers in multifaceted ways, helping them better understand both what is best practice for the discipline and what style or voice they most respond to as readers and want to emulate themselves, as writers.
Organize your class into groups of two or three students, explaining that groups will get together when papers are assigned—to brainstorm and think through the prompt—and again before they’re due, to review one another’s work.
Use this template to guide group members' feedback and discussion, asking students to complete and send the document to both you and the writer when feedback is due.
Writing Groups will succeed if you provide deadlines for their work. Include on your syllabus dates by which groups should have:
- met to get to know each other and brainstorm about the prompt;
- submitted first drafts of the assignment to one another;
- sent review/feedback back to each writer.
The final drafts you receive will certainly benefit from this peer review.
An in-class workshop allows faculty to provide directed writing instruction to the whole class through the use of specific examples. This format is a fabulous teaching tool not just for those students whose work is being “workshopped” that day, but also for the readers who learn, in giving feedback to their peers, what skills they may need to work on themselves.
Workshops can take place regularly, or just once or twice a semester; you need not “workshop” every student for this to be an effective teaching tool. What’s more, you can workshop entire papers (which takes half an hour or 45 minutes) or just sections, such as ten minutes workshops for:
- Sections on historical or theoretical background
- Sections of analysis
- Citations or annotated bibliographies
Students being workshopped must circulate the material at least 24 hours in advance of the class. Readers should read the materials and respond in writing, in the form of a brief letter to the writer, before class begins. The peer review template can be used here, too, to help readers form the basis of their letters, or ask that letters answer some of these questions:
- What is the paper mainly about?
- What are the paper’s strengths?
- Name two places the writer should focus their revision, such as structure, argumentation, thesis, etc.
- What is one thing you learned reading this paper that you didn’t know before?
Suggested structure for a workshop:
- State the ground rules. If you would like the writer to stay quiet for the initial discussion, allowing them to take notes and to hear authentic reader response, say so. If you don’t feel strongly about this, ask the writer what they would like to do: listen quietly or respond as questions come up.
- Discuss the paper’s strengths. Go around the room and ask readers to read from their letters, at first only stating the paper’s strengths. It’s often best for students to respond before faculty weigh in on the paper’s strengths, so consider giving your opinion last.
- Repeat the same, but for spots the writer needs to focus their revision. This is the best place to zoom out and allow for this specific paper to serve as a lesson for everyone in class. For example, if this paper has a weak introduction, a brief lesson in introductions will benefit more than just this writer. While you should take your time on this section, also aim to ensure the writer whose work is being discussed doesn’t leave feeling discouraged; if you can end with a final strength not previously mentioned, it will go far.
- Go around the room and ask readers if anything about this paper or the process of workshopping it helped them understand something they’ve struggled with in their own paper.
- Ask readers to send (or hand hard copies of) their letters to the writer.