Rethinking College Writing Instruction


Karen Pryor’s shaping laws

Karen Pryor, one of the world’s best animal trainers and dog trainers, inspired key parts of this course. Look at what she has to say about reinforcing new skills, in the scanned paragraph. Though she’s talking about animals, we can easily imagine freshman writing students in this paragraph. Read the […]

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Geraldine worries about “concrete nouns”

Some teachers worry that emphasizing concrete nouns will reduce your ability to say interesting things about ideas. Geraldine A., who teaches freshman comp in Boston, expressed that worry recently.  She wrote: “I appreciate the section encouraging use of concrete nouns, but I would want to be careful not to jeopardize […]

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“If you don’t let them write full essays for a while, and make them focus on the quality of sentences, they begin to get it.” — Kim Holcomb, Ohio U.

Hi John, I’m happy to explain how we used your book in my four sections of freshman writing last year. Your idea that students need to learn how to write good sentences before they can write essays struck me as game-changing, and I immediately ordered The College Writing Guide. When […]

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If you want better writing from students, order the low-cost CWG now.

Readable Writing  gets great results—much improved student writing—in record time. Plus–it engages students, gets them completely involved, wakes them up, and lights up their eyes. Readable Writing hammers home a few key writing behaviors that make all the difference.  Its exercises build from the simple in Week 1 to quite […]

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Teaching writing vs. learning ballet

I had a cup of coffee and an hour’s conversation with an artistic friend, Leslie M., in Andover, Massachusetts yesterday. Leslie has been the head of the Andover Cultural  Council for a number of years. I figure her to be much more a diplomat than I am, so I asked […]

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15 wasted weeks

“Information does not translate directly into knowledge. It must first be processed, accessed, absorbed, comprehended, integrated and retained.” –Robert B. Cialdini:  Influence,Science and Practice, p 237. If you are a teacher you know that. You know that telling students about active verbs will not change their writing. In the ongoing […]

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Is this a business or a movement?

The lady from the entrepreneurship group was on the phone yesterday and she asked, “Have you shown your book to the English departments?” “No,” I said, “they’re not interested. The department heads are resigned to the idea that today’s kids are semi-literate and nothing much can be done about that. […]

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Should I rewrite my entire comp course?

The CWG gives you material with which you can create a brand new course, and several teachers have done that, but you don’t have to go all the way. It may work simply to graft stepped instruction in style techniques onto your current course. There might be several ways to […]

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A Conscious Decision Not to Teach Style

[Here’s a note from an anonymous liberal arts professor. Does it strike you as true that the “composition profession” has decided to be uninterested in the quality of student prose? Be the first to comment!] Actually, I’m involved in a research project on the way we teach college writing. In […]

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Michael Laser: ignoring awkward writing is a great mistake

Novelist teaches freshman writing, is shocked by students’ inability to construct basic sentences

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John G. Maguire
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Lowell MA 01852