Over my years of teaching,
I've used many in-class assignments to help students refine their style
think about the language they use in writing.
These activities have proven helpful to me in gauging students'
in developing composition skills and in engaging students in the
As a pre-writing activity,
this lesson borrowed from a Writing Project colleague asks students to
their neighborhoods and then draw a map in order to inspire ideas for
writing. Its nostalgic tone is
especially appropriate for personal narratives and poetry writing.
This invention activity can
be adapted to a simple “walk and talk.”
Based on Patty Dunn’s work, the activity has students moving as
think through possible topics and strategies for development. Kinesthetic learners will excel with this
This activity is also useful
for developing the narrative essay. I
have used this exercise during the class's transition from narrative to
persuasive writing. The lesson is
prefaced with discussion about objective and subjective details, during
students have explored their understanding of connotations of words. In this exercise, I ask them to write two
different pieces, one an objective account of a fire such as an
might write, and the other a subjective account as though the students
personal connection to the fire. After
writing, we discuss the differences between these types of writing and
style and details affect the tone of the pieces.
Getting Started: Discovery
Designed for the first days
of a class, this talking invention activity introduces students to each
as well as the discovery and drafting process.
With each introduction, students automatically revise what they
others about themselves, and thus they learn how different “drafts” of
information may be composed.
You're the Top
This lesson "taps" the song "You're the Top" by Cole Porter. Students get
a lesson in 1934 pop culture as well as discuss current pop culture in creating
new and revised lyrics to the song.
Having grown up with internet
access, students do not always distinguish between reliable and
sources. This activity, adapted from a
colleague, helps students
determine which internet sources are appropriate to use in their
writing by focusing
students’ attention on details from the website.
Students often have a hard
time knowing what information to include in citations for works they
in their papers. I use this activity to
help guide writers to the proper examples in the MLA sections of their
texts. Students get practice
incorporating outside sources into their own texts, using parenthetical
documentation, and preparing a works-cited page in the MLA style.
I developed this activity for
my teaching demonstration in English 400.
I found that the introducing the students to the complexity of
of audience was sufficient to help them see that the audience they
writing to is not necessarily the real audience that reads the essay. More explanation is provided in the lesson
Finding Common Ground
Carl Rogers’ book On Becoming
a Person discusses how people construct more logical arguments when
articulate their opponents’ point of view.
This lesson puts his theory into practice through hypothetical
situations and writing.
In this activity, students
analyze the features of popular and specialty magazines that they have
to class in order to establish the conventions of that forum. The lesson is a good introduction to concepts
of forum, audience, and publishing requirements.
A variation of “musical
chairs,” the odd person out must adapt one-minute speeches to a variety
audiences. Unique topics and unusual
audiences keep students thinking on their feet as well as help them
how discourse is adapted for different audiences.
Decisions on Style
When students come into the
writing classroom, many of them think that writing happens magically,
effective writing is a gift that can't be taught. I
use the lesson on style early in the course
in order to help students see that good writing is not an accident,
writers make conscious choices about all aspects of writing including
language they use, the formality of style, and even where they make
divisions. We begin with a short,
informal writing activity in order to help them recognize elements of
writing. We follow that with a
"quiz" which asks them to name popular and classic writers' stylistic
features. Not all students are
well-read, however, and some have a hard time with that.
From there, we talk about the conscious
decisions writers make, and I ask them to divide a long passage into
and give reasons why. Then we discuss
punctuation and the formality levels associated with them.
Finally, I ask them to keep these decisions
in mind as they are writing the analyses for their papers, for that is
appropriate place to discuss their decisions.
I use this lesson when
students are writing narratives. It is a
complementary lesson to the previous one in that students are asked to
recognize elements of style from other writers.
The twist is that they are then asked to demonstrate their
by imitating that style. We start with
simple plot elements that students' stories must contain.
One student starts to write a story, and then
after about ten minutes, the students switch stories with another
writer. The new writer has 15 minutes to
continue the story in the same style of the original author. Again, students amaze me with their ability
to imitate the style of others, and they learn that style is not a
The first activity is an
in-class writing assignment best used when students are writing
narratives. In this lesson, students see
three drafts of a passage from John Steinbeck's short story "The
Chrysanthemums." We talk about what
the addition of modifiers do for the passage and the ideas posited by
Erskine about the role of modifiers in writing.
Then, I ask students to change the passage by changing the
modifiers. They are to keep the basic plot
passage, but they are free to change the modifiers, and some of the
they wish, in order to create a "new" story. The
lesson is meant to show them how
modifiers change the meaning of the text, how word choice is important
describing objects. Students have a lot
of fun with the results because they can be very creative, and I have a
fun in reading their variations of the story.
Selecting Words to
Meaning/"William and Esther"
This activity is a good
companion to the previous one. In this
lesson the students again read two drafts of the same passage from a
then answer questions regarding their preference for one passage and
read out of the passage. After they have
time to write, we discuss their responses and basically "how language
means," although we never really use those terms. Students
come up with many interpretations of
the relationship between William and Esther and all have reasons for
as they do. As a follow up assignment,
students revise the passage again in order to make their interpreted
the passage clearer without directly stating the relationship between
characters, so this again becomes a lesson in using details to create
This activity is a fun way to
get students to add details to their narrative writing.
Even though it usually produced more details
than necessary, it helps students understand that there is an audience
there that wants to know more about their subject.
It's also a mild form of competition that
students seem to thrive on.
This language arts lesson can
be used in art, sociology, and media classes as well as in composition
classes. The students use art supplies
and scrap magazines to
change the audience of a given ad, thereby
revising it. The lesson can also be used
in association with forum analysis.
A variation of a focus group
revision activity, this lesson helps students get feedback and
texts in progress, with each group of students acting as experts in
areas. It can be adapted to include as
many specialties as the instructor prefers for response or the class
successfully revise texts.
Fractured Fairy Tales
Students learn about revision
through the retelling of fairy tales and all their variations. Using “The Three Little Pigs” as a starting
point, students see how different generations and genres interpret the
and then go on to globally revise a different fairy tale.
The lesson, borrowed from a colleague,
teaches students that revision is more than simply “fixing errors” in a
and also introduces concepts of audience and forum.
Loose is Too
A student suggested that we
talk a little more about formality of language and punctuation after
"Decisions on Style" lesson.
She wanted to know how loose is too loose with mechanical usage. I devised this lesson as a response to her
question. Here, we look at different
versions, the original and edited, of two Emily Dickinson's poems. In groups, students discuss that impact the
editors' changes do to the meaning in the poems. We
don't necessarily say which version is
"better"; instead, we talk about the effect the poems create. In this way, students become aware that their
own language and mechanics effect the readers' impressions and
of their work.
This copy editing activity
helps students isolate sentences in order to closely read for surface
errors. Students may easily manipulate
the sentences to read out of order, as well.
The lesson uses easy computer applications to accomplish the