A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing

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 do it—I’m guessing here, because I haven’t done it.  But I think you  can use many of your own assignments to better effect if you arrange them differently.

The key in this method is to have students focus only on certain kinds of word-choice issues in the first half of the course: concrete nouns, people words, active verbs, sentence length control, and editing for conciseness. They should write a lot and practice those skills a lot. During that time, any kind of short assignment will work. However assignments in this section must not include a thesis sentence, and the word “thesis” should not even be mentioned.

Organizing a paper around a thesis sentence must be delayed. You don’t want students to even think about organization issues until they have mastered the active verb and sentence editing. But six to eight weeks in, after they are skilled at adjusting their own sentences in different ways, then you can introduce the higher order skill that is organizing an essay. Organization is the second part of this course and its basics can be conveyed in three weeks.  When all your students can write decent sentences at will, it’s a snap to teach them organization.




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John G. Maguire
Chelmsford MA