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Promoting Communication Skill:
Writing across the curriculum

The Impact of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)

  1. An attempt to introduce a solution to the positive feedback loop of declining literary abilities of students, develop life-long learners,
  2. Reasserting the central nature of writing throughout disciplines
  3. Defined two ways
    1. Individualized within each department, each dept developed WI courses
    2. Generic across departments, usually within the English dept
  4. Needed to combat the in ability from a lack of opportunities to write
  5. Vertically and horizontally beneficial
  6. Promote idea that we are “writing to learn and not learning to write”
    1. Without ignoring the need to produce good writers
    2. Bring back to “learner-center” approaches to teaching large classes

Resources found at:  http://www.adfl.org/ade/bulletin/n076/076014.htm

Brief historical perspective and prominent research

  1. Development in the 1970
    1. Authors to note, Toby Fulwiler
  2. Early Programs

Resources found at: http://wac.colostate.edu/books/bazerman_wac/wac.pdf

General WAC Strategies

In-Class activities

  • Free-writing:
    Start class off with students engaged in writing the first ideas that enter their heads, useful way to uncover bias towards the subject. At the end, have students write one summary sentence.
  • Entry/Exit Tickets:
    Quick way to gauge students’ understanding, pose questions at the beginning or end of class, excellent way to have students describe in their words the relationship between X and Y for next lecture
  • Short Summary:
    At the end of lecture, have students write a summary of what was discussed and pose any question they still have for next class.
  • One-Minute Papers:
    In one minute students are asked to write everything they know about the lecture topic or from the required reading.
  • Scenarios:
    Create a fictional or real situation related to your lecture topic and ask students to write an explanation based on appropriate theories
  • Answer the Question:
    Pose a possible exam essay questions, have student write a response, collect, and show on the overhead examples of well organized answers to help clarify your expectations
  • Alternative, Have students write the essay questions, present the best for review or future tests

Out-of-Class activities

  • Logbooks:
    Have students write responses to readings and in class discussion on a regular basis in a common location to helps show increased understanding over the course of the semester.  Have students only submit their best entries at the end of the semester
  • Blackboard Discussions:
    Raise questions that relate the topic to current events that could lead to time consuming discussion in class.  Help students to understand this forum may be best suited to ask pertinent questions
  • Reader Response:
    An activity designed to illustrate personal attitudes brought into readings and have students compare to the attitude of the author

The above activities were located at the following addresses
http://writing2.richmond.edu/wac/wtl.html  University of Richmond,
http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/writing.htm University of Massachusetts, Amherst.



The use of rubrics can help streamline grading by presenting students with specific guidelines for assessment.  The level of detail presented to the students can be directly related the importance of the writing assignment.

The following website is a good place to start developing formal rubrics,  http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php.


With the objective of writing to learn, remember that not all activities require formal grading.  Often, a quick read of students’ work can provide faculty with the level of understanding.  Here are a few suggestions for informal follow-ups…

  • When used as a “pop” quiz, pick a few students, review their answer, and clarify misunderstanding to the entire class
  • Avoid reading every word of every paper by identifying students’ level understanding based on the amount written
  • Do a quick read, separating the most crucial student writings to initiate the following lecture
  • As students are writing, walk around the room and read over shoulders, comment when necessary
  • When using a writing journal the entire semester, ask students to submit only their best writing activity for review
  • Have students pair off, read each others writing, and  have them reflect on the writing activity, present directed discussion questions to help with conversation
  • Use technology such as Blackboard to promote students answering each other’s questions

This information was located at the following address:

Challenges Faced with Large Classes

Many professors who are assigned large classes are turned off by the thought of increasing their workload when incorporating WAC activities.  The most common concerns faculty express are related to the extensive amount of time needed to read the papers, the inability to respond to all students, and how to prevent an increase in honor code violations.  The following suggestions are solutions addressing each of these issues for effectively incorporating writing into large classes.

Time Constraints

  • Use WAC activities as review for up coming exams, or practice for essay exams
  • Encourage concise and clear writing through very short WAC activities
  • When available, have TA monitor and respond to students’ papers
  • Assign writing outside of class to be turned upon arrival to the lecture hall
  • Use Blackboard to continue in-class discussion and post question about parts of the lecture that were unclear
  • Limit your comment on simple grammar error and where possible address common issues to the class as a whole
  • In anticipation of time consuming problems, provide a list of “Common Errors”
  • Break large papers into logical subparts and concentrate on the process rather than the outcome
  • Vary the due dates by dividing the class into thirds and have each section turn in WAC assignments in one week intervals
  • Use dice to help with random selection of groups of papers to turn, but require all students to be prepared on due date

Responding to Students

  • Remember that students learn simply from the process of writing, they do not have to have feedback on ALL writing assignments
  • Feedback can be given in a variety of forms, not just individual comments
  • Not all writing has to be required, promote WAC activities as an incentive
  • WAC activities can serve a dual purpose (summarize the lecture and ask questions)
  • Complete more thorough editing at the beginning of the writing process, providing more direction
  • Use a rubric to specify the details and explicit structure helps grading uniformed papers and key in on key elements

Honor Code and Plagiarism [Also See: Cheating and Honor Code Policy]

  • Break up large papers into subparts due throughout the semester
  • When using short, informal WAC activities, have students select their best topic for a paper proposal or to continue for a formal writing assignment
  • Divide the large class into sections and randomly select which section is required to turn their paper in that day, require all students to be prepared
  • Eliminate common paper topics that are consistently written each year, award original thinking and topic choice

The information present above was located at the following web sites:

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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