A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing

What if we assumed that freshmen know nothing about writing?


If we assumed freshmen know nothing about writing, we would teach them exactly what we want them to be able to do, and nothing more than that.

One speech teacher has her students start by standing in front of a class reading something aloud for one minute. The point: they must be able to stand in front of a group in order to give a speech. This teacher’s thinking: “The first step is getting them to stand there, so I want teach them to do it.”

I assume freshmen know nothing about writing–only that they can speak English and spell a little. From that base, they can enlarge their skill sets. It’s reasonable to assume no base of knowledge because they have been taught badly, have very different beliefs about writing, possess very varying skill levels.

In the first six weeks, I cover these two topics.

1. The difference between concrete and abstract nouns; the need as a writer to prefer concrete to abstract most of the time; the ability to “put objects in” even when writing about abstract ideas.

2.  The difference between active verbs and other verbs; the ability to find the main verb in a sentence and decide if its active or passive; the flipping of passive sentences into active; the achievement of a prose style that is 60 to 70 per cent active-verb sentences.




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John G. Maguire
307 Market Street, #306
Lowell MA 01852