Helping Students Write Well

How to Empower Students to Succeed

Before students do written work

  • Create an expectations sheet .
    • LJML and CTL can help you do this (see example below)
    • This should reflect grading and performance criteria
  • Provide examples of good work or otherwise explain criteria that may not be obvious to students.
  • Specify any style sheet you wish students to use. A style sheet should provide precise examples of the appropriate style for footnotes, for references within the body of a paper and for a final bibliography.

After students have done some written work (and before subsequent work)

  • Focus student attention (as a class) on one specific issue for improvement after each writing assignment.
  • Be sure to praise whatever new skill the class seems to have managed well. Even if there is lots of room for improvement, find something positive to praise. Always look for signs of growth, even if it is just the high level of class frustration (which shows students are grappling with the real task of developing thought). When that level eventually diminishes, comment to students that their diminished frustration shows that skills with which they initially struggled have now become integrated into their skill set. Attention to student process and frequent, brief references to it also encourage students to think about the process of thinking and encourage them in continuing in the development of critical thinking skills.
  • Show them how to move from their writing (often first-draft quality) to better writing. Try to focus on one or two maneuvers that would improve their writing. Take 5 minutes and illustrate your point; provide a handout with examples so that they can consult it as they are writing. Again CTL or LJML can help show you how this can be done. Although it may take a little time at first, helping students become stronger readers, thinkers and communicators will ultimately improve the quality of their learning and translate into better classes, better discussions, and better absorption of material.
  • Grade their writing . Do not overlook the quality of the writing when you assign a grade. If students see that sloppiness won’t affect their grade, they will continue to be sloppy writers.
  • Provide immediate feedback . Try to get papers back the next class period, if possible. Never take more than a week. Feedback plays a crucial role in the development of good writers. Always comment on both the good and the bad in the paper. Never hand back a paper with a grade and no comment.
  • Demand process as much as possible. Have students rewrite (handing in old and new copy).
  • Grade papers in 2 easily distinguished colors . Use one color for grammatical and mechanical errors. Use the other for errors of thought development. This helps students recognize that they must address your deeper concerns if they are to do a good job rewriting their paper. If they never address the comments in red, they have not really rewritten the paper.