This is a collection of materials intended to help with the art and craft of teaching writing. They include handouts from faculty development workshops and my writing pedagogy seminar, essays on teaching, and less categorizable stuff that I and others have found useful in real teaching life.

A note on navigation: The list of items in this category is too long for the drop-down menu to accommodate. The complete list is in the table of contents below. The title of each item is a link taking you to that page.


1. Starting from the Beginning

Some autobiography on how I found my way into the teaching of writing, and acquired my fundamental values about how it’s done.

“Our success endures when it disappears from view. The capability was the student’s in the first place, and remains hers. Our relationship with it was not that we put the capability there; if we succeeded, we set up a situation in which that capability started to be released, and then we gave some guidance. But the thing that was to be released, or guided – that we did not create, and never could have created. Any more than we could create life itself.”

2. Why I Teach

At one point, the grad students in my writing pedagogy seminar said that we had talked a lot about how to teach, but not why. That caused me to write this short piece.

3. Overview of a Writing Course

A chronological overview of the cycle of teaching a writing course, starting from setting expectations (why write?) and proceeding to the course’s eventual afterlife in a student’s other courses. This outline connects and organizes other documents found here (and elsewhere) into an overarching schema.

4. Writing Process and Teaching Process

This has two layers to it. The first layer is a standard part of my syllabi for writing courses.  In the document, it appears in ordinary font, like this. What I do here is break down the writing of a paper into stages, then discuss what I expect the student to do, and what the student can expect me to do, at each stage.

For faculty, I have added a second layer, in italics: a commentary that articulates my assumptions, my rationale for various steps in the process, and thoughts about teaching writing in general.

5. The Classroom as Mind and Ecosystem

Theorizing about classroom dynamics, based on ecological concepts and  Gregory Bateson’s definition of mind in Mind and Nature. I believe these two metaphors — a class is a collective mind, a class is a mental ecosystem — are powerful ways of thinking about teaching.

6. Writing as a Second Language

I sometimes say to my students you can’t write chat; you have to write writing. This is a little piece about what it means to “write writing.”

7. Teaching Writing That’s Reflective

“Reflection starts from a hard question – a genuinely puzzling question whose answer is not predictable.  Not from an easy question whose answer is known.”

“The development of a reflective, discipline-based writing assignment starts from: what is the kind of thinking characteristic of my field?  What can I say to students, what can I ask them to do in writing, that will help them learn to think this way?”

8. Eleven Things You Could Start Today

I collaborated on this with Jane Kokernak, Lecturer in Writing at MIT; it was originally a post on Tomorrow’s Professor. Our aim was to put together a list of practices that are doable and “no-tech,” stated as concisely as possible,  yet having the potential to transform the ways a teacher can assign, discuss, and comment on student work. This is intended to be useful to teachers in many disciplines, not just in courses labeled writing or English.

9. Uses of Informal Writing

Also intended for use across the curriculum. What informal writing can do for you as a teacher; what its attributes are; how it can improve writing skills; ways it can occur in the classroom or outside it; how to respond to it; some examples of informal writing assignments.

10. Conventions of Academic Papers

This originated when a student in my first-year writing class wrote a very idiosyncratic (and intelligent) piece about the book we were reading, creatively framed as a letter from one character to another.  Having finished that piece, she wrote me a note which said “I would like to know how to make this into a ‘real’ paper.”  I therefore created this handout.

11. Characteristics of Novice Writers

A handout from Greg Colomb (University of Chicago) that I find constantly applicable and enlightening.  The term “novice writer” here means one who is encountering some challenging intellectual task for the first time.  When students come to college, we deliberately put them in the position of being “novice writers” in this sense; as they continue to be exposed to a range of different disciplines, e.g. in Gen Ed courses, they are novices yet again. Students who are no longer novices in their majors can still be “novice writers” in other fields.

The news here is that crappy writing may be a sign that we’re succeeding: we’re doing our job, by challenging our students. The further good news is that the said crappy writing should be temporary, and that the way to make it go away may well be to teach, not “basic skills,” but the interesting subject we want to teach: the way to think in our discipline.

12. Commenting on Student Papers

On the thinking underlying the work of commenting on a critical, idea-driven paper; strategies that might make it a little easier; positions or roles one can take while commenting; questions to ask about a student paper.

13. Peer Review of Student Writing

I often have students give each other critiques in class by working in pairs. This item is about how to structure that work so it’s productive; it includes several forms I hand out to students to guide them, first in reflecting on their own piece, then in giving feedback to someone else.

Making peer review genuinely useful is essential to dealing with a writing teacher’s workload. In the insightful words of Barbara Walvoord, the goal is to use class time to get the students to produce comments of the kind the teacher would be writing on their papers outside of class.

14. Creating Writing Assignments

A concise page of essential questions to consider when designing a writing assignment. It’s intended to serve as a reminder of what needs to be communicated to the student when you write the handout that conveys the assignment.

15. Crucial Verb in an Assignment

Somewhere in an assignment there needs to be a clear statement of “This is what I want you do do,” and in that statement there is some verb that defines the thinking process underlying the writing. Choosing this verb with care will go a long way toward making an assignment doable.

16. Grids for Evaluating Writing

Contains several examples of grids to be used in evaluating student papers. It starts with a slight modification of one found in Peter Elbow’s very useful article “Ranking, Evaluating and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment” (College English, vol. 55 no. 2).

17. Criteria for Grading College Writing

A handout I developed while teaching first-year writing at Simmons College, based in part on discussions with my students on what constitutes a good paper, and what the grades A through F should mean.  This has helped me a lot in the quest to assign grades that are understandable and perceived as fair.

Connoisseurs of rubrics will see that this could still be developed more fully, and I would be interested in suggestions for doing so.

18. Working with Student Writing in the Classroom

I believe that discussing student writing is the #1 priority for use of class time in a writing class. This is a kind of cookbook for how to go about that, reflecting my experience and practice.

19. Proofreading and Copy-Editing

This handout represents my way of getting my students to proofread their papers. Essentially, I point out that certain kinds of errors occur in certain lines of their piece, but I leave it up to them to find the error(s) in a given line. I’m hoping that this active searching leads to some eventual  ability to catch mistakes without this kind of prompting.

20. What Is This Thing Called Grammar?

An attempt to answer the question in the title, and to point out that grammar is not the same thing as style or dialect.

Some practical recommendations for how to deal with students’ sentence structure problems.

Recommended reading on teaching grammar, and on the research that has been done about such teaching and its effects on writing.

21. Inner Speech and Teaching Writing

Reflections on Thought and Language, by Lev S. Vygotsky. A careful examination of Vygotsky’s ideas about how language works in the mind, especially what he calls “inner speech.” To me, “inner speech” sounds a whole lot like a crucial piece of the process of writing.

If you haven’t read Vygotsky’s oft-cited book, this might save you a lot of time.