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ENGL 1010: English Composition: Faculty Version: Advice for Instructors

Bulletin Description: Workshop in expository writing: strategies of, and practice in, analytical reading and writing about texts.

First Week of the Semester (Syllabus, Ice Breakers, etc.)

  • Creating a welcoming environment (instructor presence & student groups)

Posting Blackboard announcements on a regular schedule (for example, always posting updates & reminders on Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and responding to Discussion Board posts (and perhaps drawing upon them during synchronous sessions) will give students the sense that their contributions matter, and that the instructor is engaging with their ideas. Instructors can also build presence by engaging with students in small groups.

1. Good ideas about using “research buddies” and other in-class activities for teaching the research process:

2.     Ideas for in-class activities: “working with student writing should be part of most class sessions.”

  • Establishing Community Norms (first week)

Establishing guidelines for netiquette and community norms will help students and instructors alike navigate difficult topics in the classroom.  Try establishing netiquette and community norms early on in the semester, in collaboration with your student.


1. This site calls attention to the importance of community norms in managing "hot topics."

  • Community Rubric Building

Community rubric building is a process where students help to create the assessment criteria for a writing assignment. This starts by asking the question: How are the expectations of writing (assignment instructions, processes, and rubrics) created and revised? Do students have a say in their creation or revisions? What does the document that outlines these expectations look like? What do students do with it? What do teachers do with it?
1.   Amanda Athon illustrates ways to use community rubrics to assess students who speak and write in non "standard american english".

2. Brian Hendrickson and Genevieve Garcia de Mueller explain how they used community rubrics to facilitate discussions about the genre of academic writing.

  • Contract Based Grading 

Contract based grading is a strategy of assessment embedded in the notion that all student work/labor in a course is valuable. This system accounts for all of the labor that students do while in a writing course, paying particular attention to work done while learning, rather than putting the focus on just the outcome or artifact produced. The writing process itself is extensive and requires many pre-planning steps: reading, taking notes, outlining, drafting, and so forth. Sometimes, despite all this work, the only thing graded by the instructor is the final product. As we continue to teach students that writing is a never-ending process of revisions, drafts, retooling and retouching, putting the emphasis on an end product does not reflect the rhetoric of revision. Students and faculty negotiate the contract and assess student progress throughout the term.

1. This is a sample contract for first year writing from the book Labor-Based Grading contracts. This contract uses hours logged, as opposed to assignments completed as a means to grade.

  • Community Building Exercises 

  Icebreakers are a great way of building community in your classes. Check out this list.

Student Persistence

  • Growth Mindset

Growth vs. fixed mindset deals with a student's attitude towards learning; they can either believe that their learning capacity has room to grow or they can believe that their capacity to learn is already determined. Encouraging a growth mindset in a student lets them find purpose in a course because a fixed mindset may lead a student to be dismissive of the work needed to progress. Here are some resources that go in depth on the concept:

1. This post presents a simplified look into the concept of fixed vs growth mindset. Gives some brief details on the types of students who struggle most with growth mindset and some tips to encourage growth:

2. This landing page has many different resources regarding the concept of growth mindset at the collegiate level. From videos to PowerPoints to blog posts, this site has something for everyone:,with%20effort%20and%20good%20strategies.

3. See this handout or watch this video for more information about growth mindset. 

  • Addressing different levels of preparedness using pre-assessments

Assigning a short diagnostic essay, especially at the start of the semester, will help instructors get a sense of the students' different levels of preparedness. These prompts allow instructors to proactively diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of students' writing skills, which instructors can address as the semester progresses in class and/or guide the student to appropriate campus resources that can provide the student with additional guidance to help them strengthen their writing.

Sample diagnostic prompts # 1

Sample diagnostic prompts #2

Sample diagnostic prompt #3 - related to the "Literacy Narrative" assignment 

  • Checking for Student Understanding: Self Reflections

 Reflecting the first week gives students a chance to think about their own goals in the course and give you a better idea of how you can both work to meet those goals etc.

Self-reflection is a key strategy that focuses on students’ thought processes and their comprehension of topics that have been discussed. This strategy is an informal writing practice where students are given questions to answer about the course topics and/or their progress. Emphasizing openness to writing styles highlights that there are various ways to write and share their thoughts, which deconstructs the pre-existing writing hierarchies and dominance of English levels and the English language.

See the following resources: 1. 2.

  • Checking for Student Understanding: Pre-assigned Discussion Questions

Discussion questions, when assigned before a discussion due date, can serve as a means to check that students have taken something from the reading. They can also be useful tools when brought into the larger discussion. These questions are meant to be complex and open-ended, and concern issues of genre, systems of power, and the world we live in. As opposed to having students write a summary of the reading or take a reading quiz, writing 2 different questions allows the student to begin to feel comfortable asking questions about text, as opposed to having a sponge-like relationship to the material, as well as giving them a chance to possibly bring their questions to the larger group.


  • Encouraging Students to Read

The following resources feature strategies instructors can use to encourage students to read:  from Northern Illinois University's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and from Faculty Focus


  • Necessary Skills: Note Taking

To best support students, build opportunities for students to practice necessary skills like note taking. 


1. Podcast from Cult of Pedagogy about strategies for teaching effective note-taking. (The transcript is also available to read.)

2. Short presentation on teaching note-taking to first-time college students:

  • Necessary Skills: Time Management 

1. Workload calculator:

2. Article on workload:

3. Pudue Owl Time Management Resources:

  • Pre and Post-Class Questionnaires

Developing a set of both pre- and post-class surveys or questionnaires will create more opportunities for engagement, allow the students to reflect on their progress throughout the class, and allow you to check for understanding of materials.

1. Kristina WIlson, How (And Why!) To Write Pre-Class Quetionnaire


  • Checkpoints

Part of maintaining student persistence is ensuring that the whole class is on the same page and at the same “checkpoint” of understanding.  With this in mind, it may be worth it to dedicate synchronous class time to being a “checkpoint class.”  You can spend this time briefly reviewing and summarizing all of the materials that you have covered so far in the semester. You can also turn this into an interactive activity.

One way to do this is to create a collaborative Google doc that outlines the major areas that were covered in the units (for example, you might have one bullet point that simply states “Primary and Secondary Sources” and then another that states “Qualitative vs. Quantitative research” and so on). You then break students up into groups and assign each group to a bullet point.  Each group is tasked with brainstorming what they have learned about each of the categories, but they are also asked to write down any questions they have about their assigned category.  By the end of the activity, you can review each of the areas and answer any questions that were written down by the students.  You can then download and post/email this document to students to have as a reference/resource. This activity allows for a quick and collaborative review of content covered in the class, while also addressing any areas where there may be misunderstandings or confusion.

  • More resources on Student Persistence

1. Encouraging persistence:

2. Facilitating engaging discussions:

3. Checking for student understanding:

4. Using groups to ensure active learning:

Student Engagement

  • Student Led Discussions

Early in the semester, you can have students sign up in groups to either lead a real-time discussion or moderate a discussion board about readings / other course content. This will facilitate community, encourage broader conversations, and provide the students with a variety of feedback. Check out the following resources:

  1. Video from Tim McCarthy explaining how and why he facilitates student led discussions: McCarthy, Facilitating Student-Led Discussions
  2. Joan Thormann, Should You Let Your Students Lead Discussion Boards?
  3. This is an example of how an instructor at JMU set up a student led discussion assignment: student-led discussion assignment
  • Collaborative Google Docs

Google Docs are a great way to present information, work collaboratively on a writing project as a class, free-write anonymously, and are easy for students to return to if they want to reference what was discussed in class. There are many different ways to use collaborative google docs in the classroom- however with repetition, the Google Doc provides students a consistent writing arena to practice their skills and write with others in real-time.

  1.  Collaborative Tools like Google Docs
  • Multiple Means Of Action and Expression For Writing

Consider incorporating assignments into your class that accomplish the same learning goals, but require different skill sets to complete. For example, if you want students to practice their research skills and write a short report on primary and secondary sources that they find on the database, offer an audio submission option as well (using voice memo app or other recording software).  The students complete the same task and assessment can still take place, but allowing for the completion across mediums will appeal to a wider variety of learners and give students more opportunities to engage with the technology and skills they feel most comfortable with. More on UDL and means of action and expression:

  1. UDL Action Expression
  • Promoting Civility in the Classroom

This resource features tips on how to model and reinforce civil behaviors during both online and in-person instruction: promoting civility handout

  • Encourage and Stimulate Student Learning

The following resources feature strategies instructors can use to facilitate discussions that encourage and stimulate student learning: from Indiana University's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, from Cult of Pedagogy, and from the University of Washington's Center for Teaching and Learning

  • Aiding Student Engagement

Check out this handout for strategies you can use to aid student engagement. More resources can be found on the CTL website

  • Active Learning Techniques

Active learning techniques (e.g., “Purposeful Pause,” “Think-Pair-Share”, etc.) allow students to become active participants in their learning process. Check out the following resources on promoting active learning: here and here