Writing to Learn


Have students write the answers to a couple of questions to gauge understanding or prep discussion—“What questions do you have about the reading?” “Based on the reading what would you say is . . .”—one or two students read responses

Cool down

When discussions get heated, ask students to take a few minutes to write down their thoughts

Questions and Confusion

When lecturing on tough material, stop every now and then to ask students to quickly write down a summary of the material or questions they have—collect a representative sample to see how it is going

End-of-Class Summary

Students write down what they learned—one minute paper about (thesis and outline for explaining) or what was most important, what was least clear—things like that


Open-ended Journals

Students write about whatever they choose connected to course—record of journey

Semi-structured Journals

Questions guide what written that are general

Guided Journals

Structured responses

Research Log

Keep track of questions, articles, examples they find interesting and would consider using in class

Double Entry Journals

Divide paper in half—students take notes on one side and come up with questions, responses, connections on the other

Observation/Thought Journal for Lab

Two columns one side observations other side reactions

Contemporary Issues Journal

Students take concepts and find examples to illustrate them

Exam prep Journal

Instructor makes list of prep questions, students respond to them in journals keeping track of answers and their questions

Reading Logs

Marginal Notes

Forbid highlighting in order to encourage students to take notes

Reading Log or Summary/Response Notebook

Student responses to reading guides

Imagined Interview with an Author

Create a dialog between the student and author in which student interviews author challenging her/his ideas

Creativity Exercises

Writing Dialogues

Students write a dialog between two people of opposing viewpoints (famous/historical people in the field)

Bio-Poems of Self, Character or Person, or Audience

First name

Four traits describing character

Relative of (three people or concepts)

Lover of (three things or people)

Who feels (3)

Who needs (3)

Who fears (3)

Who gives (3 things)

Who would like to

Resident of

Last name

Metaphor Games

Students create metaphors or analogies (writing is like hockey)

Other Ideas

Thought Letters

Two pages single spaced to a sympathetic audience—thoughtful exploration

Email Conversations

Email thoughts, notes or summary to another student—respond back and forth including instructor –

Sequenced Exploration

Portfolio Reflection and Audience Letters

Informal Thesis Work

Practice Essay Exams

Practice Thesis

Students write and exploratory question, then a brief (one statement) thesis answering the question, then an extended thesis

Frame paragraphs

Statement and organization—students come up with generalizations to explore it and supporting data

Active Learning Based (in groups or single)

Apply a new concept to personal experience or other content from class

Explain a concept to new people in the field


You notice this example, how would you address it based on what you have learned in this class

Data provided

You provide the data—students then write “findings” and “discussion” section

Write a poem about the concept

At specific points in the term students write a note summarizing the content—rather than teacher responding, students exchange the notes(s)—assignment is to write a 200 word response to the other students about what they read—teacher can quickly skim exchanges to see what is learned and what misconceptions exist

Process analysis

Describe the process for answering this mathematical problem

Describe the concepts needed to answer this mathematical problem and how they are applied

What does it mean to . . . How do you do it?

Students create and activity to teach a math concept and explain it through writing

Write a “mathography” where you describe you feelings and experience with mat in and out of the class

Math reflections and portfolio

Biographies of people in the field (facebook profiles for people)