This post was written by former Gradhacker author Trent M Kays
I enjoy writing. I have always enjoyed writing, but this doesn’t mean my students always enjoy writing. Often when I enter the classroom, my goal is to make my students laugh and to make sure they have fun. My colleagues often joke that part of my teaching method is based on joke telling; they aren’t far off. I do whatever I can to ensure my students smile when they enter my class and are relaxed when they leave my class. There is no reason for them to stress and freak out about a writing class; however, I often hear groans when I ask them to write something, and, as a result, I started a practice called “Be Silly, Have Fun, and Write!”
I always have my students begin class with writing and end class with writing regardless of the amount of writing we do in between. Despite my zeal about writing in class, some of my colleagues outside of my discipline don’t always engage with their students through writing. There are many reasons why teaching assistants and instructors in disciplines other than writing studies would not regularly engage in writing activities in their classes. I think the overall issue is that some disciplines do not value writing in the same ways as other disciplines do; however, there is value to in-class writing in all disciplines. Writing helps students work through problems, encourages critical thinking, can work as a stress reliever, and lets them connect with their own thoughts in many ways.
I always encourage colleagues outside of my discipline to do at least some basic and silly writing prompts in their courses. Here are the three rules I follow for my in-class writing activities:
- Be silly. This is okay. It’s okay to be silly in class every once in a while.
- Have fun. Once again, this is okay. It’s good to have fun and relax in class. It’s good for the instructor, and it’s good for the students.
- Write. This is the most important part, and it’s not as hard as it sounds. Just write. Put pen or pencil to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) and write.
I have used these rules in my classes, and my students always seem to enjoy their writing prompts. I usually begin with a warm-up and silly writing prompt followed by a serious writing prompt related to the daily readings. Depending on the length of the class session, I give my students five minutes for each prompt, and I always write with them.
- Warm-up/Silly Prompt: Write about the last time you did or did not punch a clown. (To be clear, I am in no way condoning clown punching in any way.)
- Serious Prompt: Write about one statement that sticks out in your mind from Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
After each prompt, I have some of my students share. This helps build community, and it helps students learn about their classmates. This activity is appropriate for any type of class in any discipline: Economics, Math, English, History, etc. The point of this activity is for students to have fun while connecting their thoughts to their studies through writing. Do I expect any of my students to have punched a clown? No, not really. I know I have never punched a clown, but that’s not the point of the prompt. The point is to make my students smile or laugh and start writing.
At the end of class, I usually ask my students to write for five minutes about what we talked about during our course meeting. I have them reflect on what they liked and didn’t like during class, including my silly writing prompts, and I ask them to share their reflections. The end of class reflection prompt is especially easy to use in different classes and disciplines because it’s not about a specific topic or reading; it’s about the students reflecting on what they did or didn’t like about a certain class meeting. This is beneficial to all instructors, and most certainly teaching assistants, because often when teaching assistants enter the classroom for the first time, they are doing so with no prior teaching experience.
So, I encourage all my colleagues to do some in-class writing no matter the course subject. Instructors should engage with their students through some type of writing activity. Take two, three, four, or five minutes at the beginning or end of class and have students write. The students will benefit from it.
Do you have any writing prompts or activities that you’ve had success with in class? Please share them with us in the comments!
Photo by Flickr user English106 // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY
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From all of us at GradHacker, have a wonderful and productive summer. We'll see you again this autumn!
Writing your dissertation this summer? It's important to have a writing plan. Katie Shives advises: bit.ly/1UDMhrV
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