INFORMAL WRITING One of the goals of the Core Writing Program is to help students use writing to explore, discover, and learn, as well as to communicate and to display their knowledge and findings. Using informal writing in the classroom is one way to help students to use writing as a way of thinking. Informal writing can take various forms and can be used by instructors both as in-class activities and as outside assignments. Here is a collection of suggestions from CWP instructors. In-class Writing Even in our comparatively small classes, some students may be too shy to speak in class or may become distracted during class discussions. Short in-class writes help to involve students who may be at the fringes. For example, during class discussions of writing processes, you can ask everyone to spend a few minutes jotting down ideas about their own process (or what helps them write, or what rules for writing they have been given, or what they think constitutes good writing). Reading Discussions: Even though I may have students do a journal entry on the reading we will be discussing on a particular day, I will often start a discussion of a piece by having them write for 10 minutes. (See examples of ideas in Writer's Notebook section.) I will then ask for students to read what they have written to get the discussion going. Sometimes during a discussion three or four students may be participating eagerly, with other students just looking on. I will stop the discussion and ask everyone to take a few minutes to write their positions in the argument and why they take those positions. I also use informal writing at the end of a class period to ask students to summarize the discussion of the day. If students worked in small groups, I will ask them to spend just five minutes or so, summarizing or commenting on their group work. Topic Development: Informal writing can help students focus on possible topics for an essay. After introducing and discussing a topic in class, I will ask students to do two or three freewrites on possible topics. In order to generate ideas, students are supposed to write continuously, not taking time to censor or edit their ideas but using writing as a means of discovery. Sometimes I will give brief prompts on three possible topics and ask students to write in response to each of those prompts. Prewriting Techniques: The "Exploring Ideas" section of Everyday Writer (pp. 28-33) has some additional suggestions for using informal writing (and other techniques) to generate ideas. Draft Development: When students come to class with a draft of their paper, I have them create some additional material through brief informal writing. For example, I will ask them to add a physical description of a person who is in the paper but not described. Or I will ask them to write a dialogue between two people who are significant in the paper. Or I will ask them to generate another example for a claim they make in the paper. Or I will ask them to write an incident that occurred after the incidents described in the paper. Often these brief writings provide a new way of seeing the paper or a new piece of evidence that gives further strength to the paper, and these bits end up in the final draft. Notes on a Finished Piece: Before students hand in a final draft of the paper, I ask them to write me a note about it. What do they like best? What do they like least? If they had one more crack at it, what would they revise? What do they want me to respond to? What is their own sense of how well this paper worked? Reactions to Respondents: After students or I have responded to a draft or a final piece, I ask the writer to respond to the respondent. In what way was the respondent on track? What did he or she mis-understand? What advice was useful? And so forth. Teacher Response to In-class Writing: I collect in-class writings and read through them, making very brief comments. I find I learn a great deal about students' difficulties, perceptions, perplexities, and engagement by reading this in-class work. I also use them as evidence of class participation, check them off in my gradebook (sometimes with a + or -) and let students know I am doing so. I respond to questions, comments, and confusions in students' in-class work, but I never correct them. I consider these conversations, not displays to be evaluated. "Two-Minute Essays": Occasionally I ask students to write a two-minute essay at the end of class. The assignment is, "Write one thing you learned in class today," or "Write one question about what we did or discussed in class today."
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