My 5 Favorite Writing Activities


Duke University Professor of Writing, Dr. Denise Comer shares her top 5 writing activities that facilitate contextual learning both inside or outside the classroom.

Part of what makes teaching writing fun is how different each class can be. With each iteration of a course, and with different students, the dynamic shifts. Areas of focus change … approaches to writing projects vary… interactions fluctuate. Still, alongside this inherently dynamic nature of writing pedagogy, and across many varied contexts for teaching writing, I also have a few go-to writing activities that I turn to semester after semester. Below, are five of my all-time favorites:

Instructor Facilitated Small-Group Writing Workshops. These consist of two or three students meeting with me virtually or in person outside of class time to provide feedback on drafts in progress. Students distribute drafts in advance so we can read all the drafts and come to the workshop prepared to provide feedback. Usually Writing WorkshopI organize these in conjunction with the penultimate draft in a sequence. What I like most about these small-group workshops is that they ameliorate what is for me the somewhat lonely process of providing written feedback to students on their drafts. With conventional responding, students submit their drafts, and then I face a stack of documents. While I enjoy responding to student writing in general, this conventional format can sometimes leave me feeling disengaged due to a lack of immediate interaction. Moving my response to small-group settings enables the feedback to be more interactive.

But the small-group setting also facilitates more productive and meaningful peer feedback. I can position my feedback alongside peer feedback, so I do not inadvertently duplicate what peers convey to one another, and I can model for students the kinds of feedback that are most helpful for writers as they revise. I can also help redirect, coach, or extend, the peer feedback, as necessary. As the semester progresses, my own role in these small-group writing workshops becomes less prominent as students take on more of the responsibility for providing peer feedback to one another.

Addressing a universal writing-related challenge efficiently accomplishes class-wide feedback without me repeating the same advice individually to every student, again and again.

Large-Group Writing Workshops. Large-group writing workshops are, for me, one of the most valuable pedagogical strategies. I value immensely those extended occasions when all members of a class are together discussing a student’s draft, pondering writing choices, and providing feedback towards revision. I use large-group workshops with many phases of the writing process, from the first draft through to more refined drafts, as well as with smaller segments of writing, such as introductions, conclusions, transitions, argument structure, or evidence. Group ProjectSometimes I ask students to volunteer to be the “star” of the workshop; other times I choose particular examples based on what I have noticed writers struggling with on a class-wide basis. Addressing a universal writing-related challenge efficiently accomplishes class-wide feedback without me repeating the same advice individually to every student, again and again. For instance, if all students need to work on making their claims more complex, I can workshop one or two people’s drafts in a large-group setting in order to encourage everyone to think about claims. To ensure that writers are thinking about writing transfer, I emphasize before, during, and after a large-group workshop that all writers in the class should be thinking about their own writing projects even as they are providing feedback on the workshoppee’s project. After the workshop, I reserve time for students to write a revision plan for themselves based on what they learned from the large-group workshop.

Asking students to reconfigure the shape of their arguments helps them crystallize their thinking and makes explicit the many ways in which writers can transfer writing capacities from one writing occasion to others.

Shape Shifting. Asking students to reconfigure the shape of their arguments helps them crystallize their thinking and makes explicit the many ways in which writers can transfer writing capacities from one writing occasion to others. One shape-shifting activity invites students during a latter stage of draft development, or after a final version, to convert their arguments into the following: a visual argument in the form of a sketch, painting, or cartoon; an architectural creation using various manipulatives (paper clips, cups, pencils, other tiny objects); a Haiku or limerick; and a microblog such as a Twitter post: I am a Writer. At the beginning of each semester, I ask students to write a 750-word essay in which they introduce themselves to me and their classmates as a writer. To get started, they each write a timeline of their writing histories, including school, personal, and professional writing. Students discover and share the joys and pains of writing, memorable writing-related experiences, and their hopes for their writing futures. I, in turn, have the opportunity to connect with them as a writer by responding with my own writing experiences. Another positive feature of this activity is that it facilitates conversations between students about Writingwriting as they read and respond to one another’s drafts. Creating space for students to think about themselves as writers and talk about writing with other writers will, in turn, help them reflect on and strengthen their writing approaches.

Writing. While it may seem self-evident, writing in a writing class is incredibly productive. In synchronous online or face-to-face contexts, I carve out time for us to write. Time increments vary depending on the writing task. Sometimes, when a draft deadline is approaching, students and I will write for as many as 30 minutes in class. Other occasions for writing include working on a revision after a large-group workshop, reflecting for five minutes on a completed writing project, or composing a quick write in response to a course text. One semester I experimented with implementing a writing ritual at the beginning of class where we all wrote for five minutes. We never shared the writing, and I never offered an area of focus for the writing. Instead, it was a way of signaling to ourselves that we were moving into a space for writing. In asynchronous writing contexts, I still create such spaces for writing as a deliberate part of lesson plans. Even though students may not necessarily be writing at the same time, the shared activity creates the sense of shared writing. Through all these occasions, in which I also write, I find it incredibly powerful and invigorating to write while others are also writing.

Writing Activities



What are your favorite writing activities? Post a comment to share!




Denise Comer
Denise Comer is an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Writing Studies and Director of First-Year Writing at Duke University. She teaches theme-based first-year writing seminars on such areas of inquiry as illness narratives, civic engagement, and travel writing. She also teaches a first-year writing MOOC through Duke University and Coursera: English Composition I: Achieving Expertise. Her scholarship, which has been published in such journals as Pedagogy, Writing Program Administrators Journal, and Composition Forum, explores writing pedagogy, writing program administration, and the intersections between technology and the teaching of writing. She has written two books: Writing in Transit (Fountainhead Press, 2015) and It’s Just a Dissertation: The Irreverent Guide to Transforming Your Dissertation from Daunting to Doable to Done (co-written with Barbara Gina Garrett; Fountainhead Press 2015). She has also written a web-text, Writing for Success in College and Beyond, (c4e 2015). She lives in North Carolina with her husband and their three children.

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  1. Doris July 6, 2016 Reply

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