Teaching Ideas for English Composition Teachers--Activities and Writing Assignments
How to get students to write
What are some activities for the English Composition class? This article lists several, all of which I have used myself in my college teaching experiences.
The key is to find different methods to get students involved in brainstorming ideas and carrying them to paper. Besides the act of writing itself, students' sharing their thoughts and gaining other perspectives from their peers is also a way to improve what a student puts on paper.
While these methods are ones I've used mostly for college level students, they can easily be used for high school students, and even younger. At one point, I used similar methods with an Upward Bound class of teenagers (varying ages) who were in a summer program to help them prepare for college. They responded well.
Write about past experiences & expectations
One of the activities I find helpful with students is getting them to share their past experiences with writing and current expectations for the class. Have they written a lot? Are they comfortable with their writing at this point? As a teacher, encourage them to share their weak areas along with their successes.
Then, what do they hope to get from the class? I usually joke with them, saying "besides a grade." Seriously, though, what do they hope to improve on? As a teacher, getting their answers helps me to adjust the syllabus and lesson plans for the semester as appropriate in order to help meet their goals. I usually get them to address their past experiences and current expectations on the very first day of English Composition class.
Freewriting is an excellent way to get students to think and write. Time them for five to ten minutes. Usually you'll give them a topic, but you can also let them choose whatever is on their minds.
Freewriting is a good activity to use to encourage brainstorming. Consider it as a pre-write activity to use to help create essay ideas.
Bulletin boards are useful for school teachers
Write essays based on current topics
Another way to get students more interested in their writing is to center their essays around current topics. Many texts are helpful in that they have readings in them that touch on current social and political issues of the day.
You can give students freedom to choose their topics, perhaps with your final approval. Students can practice their research skills through online searches and trips to the school's library to find their own sources about the topics in which they are interested.
Group presentations work better with literature-based composition courses. Students can be assigned or choose a particular, poem, short story, or perhaps play to present to the class. What's the main point? Their interpretation? Rhyme scheme? History of the author? I have seen students be really creative, even coming up with a game show to help their classmates learn more about the work.
Whatever your topic for the day, group work is a terrific way to get students engaged with each other in sharing different ideas and perspectives. Groups can work in different ways. When teaching summarizing, I have instructed students to individually write summary sentences of paragraphs and then get in groups to compare all the responses, choosing the best one in the group. Students can even write their answers on the board for the whole class to review.
When looking at a work such as an essay, students can come up with answers to directed questions in their groups. Groups work well in a composition class that is focused around literature, coming up with interpretations of assigned poems and short stories.
Give students specific questions to answer
Having peers review their writing is a great method of sharing perspectives. Following a guideline of questions, students read each others' rough drafts, giving input.
I instruct students to make two extra copies of their papers to give to their group in order for their peers to be able to write on the papers themselves. Sometimes, I ask for an extra copy for myself in order to take a quick look at key elements.
I generally divide the class into groups of three--four if there are uneven numbers. Students tend to find this activity helpful, both in my face-to-face and online classes.
Writing in a journal is a way that students can express how they are feeling about their progress in the course. Taking up the journals and reading them every few weeks also allows the instructor to see how the class is doing and can adjust lesson plans as needed.
Most entries should be directed, as students shouldn't expect this to be a personal journal. Still, you might give them some leeway on what type of "personal" entries they can make.
Meeting with students individually gives them a chance to privately share their progress and fears in your class. These meetings should last only ten or fifteen minutes. As a college instructor, I hold these in my office. High school teachers will have to keep the rest of the class occupied with other work while taking a couple of class periods to meet with each student.
Besides general purpose, these conferences can be geared to specific assignments. For example, I cancel class the week before the students' final research papers are due in order for us to meet privately about their papers.
Keep on writing!
All of these ideas can work for both college and high school composition courses. Even junior high or elementary student writers can benefit from many of these methods.
The key is to keep students engaged in the craft of writing. Encourage the sharing of different ideas and critiques as they review the works of other writers, including that of their peers.
Writing is an ongoing learning process that requires practice in order to expect improvement. Instructors can use a variety of methods to ensure that this happens in their classrooms.
© 2012 Vicki L Hodges
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