3 creative hands-on activities to help students with writing

Do you teach writing classes? Do you assign essays in your content classes? All of us who work with diverse student writers know the challenges that come with supporting students’ organization and clarity in writing. Students are often stuck with linear models of thinking, or they prescriptively and uncritically follow model outlines. On the other end of the spectrum, they often come to us with a collection of 101 ideas but lack the tools to organize them coherently.

The Workshop

In a workshop developed and facilitated by Lisa Lindquist of Richard Bland College of William and Mary in April 2018, instructors, in the role of participants, engaged in hands-on activities modeled to help students:

  • Develop rapport in preparation for peer sharing and feedback.
  • Move beyond linearity in organizing ideas.
  • Rethink structure through deconstructing textual functions.

Developing rapport between your writing students: Transition words icebreaker

In a writing class or a content class with writing assessments, it is important for students to be able to comfortably share their work with one another in peer feedback sessions. Helping students develop rapport with one another should be a critical component of the writing classroom in order to reduce students’ anxiety and build community. A useful writing-focused icebreaker can help.

Transition words icebreaker Lindquist and Wiehe.pdf.docx

Watch how instructors engaged in this icebreaker activity with humor and creativity while using transition words.

Moving beyond linearity in organizing ideas: Sorting objects activity

In a writing class, students have often learned to follow outlines (e.g. 5-paragraph essay, introduction/body/conclusion). While sequential models and outlines are useful guides, they may also confine students’ thinking to a linear sequence and impede the creative grouping of ideas that are necessary for developing robust themes in an essay.

As facilitator, Lisa Lindquist emphasized, “There is a lot more to writing than actual writing”. This next hands-on activity breaks students free from text linearity and language, in order to allow them to creatively group ideas together and express their rationale for their choices. It’s a good activity to start with students as it takes away all of the ‘baggage’ students carry around regarding the act of writing. This ‘baggage’ may include anxiety, nervousness, a fixed mindset about not being a writer, etc. An activity that brings about linear sequencing without writing also opens up the conversation for non-linear models of organization of text that may be culturally situated (e.g. circular, tangential). The activity was a big hit with instructors in the workshop.

Sorting objects activity Lindquist and Wiehe

Watch the instructors present their categories to each other.

Rethinking writing structure: Deconstructing text activity

Students have often been taught to approach writing from a constructionist perspective, building and piecing together different parts of text until it forms a whole. While this is naturally an important skill, turning this activity on its head can be useful to reduce the anxiety around building an organized structure and promoting deep cognitive work on text elements.

Deconstructing text activity Lindquist and Wiehe

Watch Lisa Lindquist facilitate a discussion from participants’ identification of text elements.

The tools and strategies presented in this story were developed and presented by Lisa Lindquist and compiled by Elsa Wiehe. Share your thoughts and ideas via Yammer, Twitter or LinkedIn.