Organizing Online Writing Groups

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by Daria / epicantus, on FlickrSince students in my course are choosing their own projects, every student is on a different schedule at this point. Some are working toward the midterm. Some are working on the Genre Analysis Report. Some are working on open projects. Because they are all working at their own pace, it’s not possible to set up peer review activities for the projects. There’s no way to guess who will have a draft ready when.

From this point on, then, I have asked students to work in online writing groups to share whatever they have and provide accountability for one another. To keep these groups organized, I set up a general schedule with expectations for each student to post several times in the course forums each week. In face-to-face classes, I ask students to create their own guidelines and schedules, but my experience with these online students is that they need more definite structures. Without spaced-out expectations to post and return to reply, they frequently wait too long to engage in conversations with their classmates.

I set up the schedule below, but I did indicate that groups can adjust this schedule as necessary:

By 11:59 PM onYou should
  • Check the previous week’s discussion to make sure all questions have been answered.
  • Post details in the current week’s discussion on where you are on your projects, even if you haven’t made much progress. See details below.
  • Include any questions, challenges you need help with, or drafts that you have at that point.
  • Read and reply to the messages that have been posted. See details below.
  • Add peer review comments on any drafts that have been posted.
  • Make any requests for additional information (e.g., if a reply leaves you with a question),
  • Check out everything that has been posted.
  • Add any additional replies or requests for more information.


Writing Group Wednesday Activities

Here are some things you might share with one by Wednesday in your weekly discussion:

  • Status/progress reports on what you are doing/have done since last Wednesday. 
    (Check Markel, Practical Strategies for Technical Communication, Chapter 12 for help with status and progress reports. Your updates can be informal.)
  • Rough drafts of your projects.
  • Revisions of your projects.
  • Small chunks of your projects, if you want feedback on something very specific.
  • Success stories.
  • Challenges you encounter.
  • Questions that you have about your projects.


Writing Group Friday Activities

After sharing, you can reply by Friday with any of the following:

  • Provide supportive feedback and advice, like that shown in the No One Writes Alone video.
  • Work together to solve any challenges or answer any questions.
  • Collaborate on projects (be sure to credit your helpers if someone provides significant input).
  • Plan for future discussions.


Final Thoughts

This week will be our first time to try out the writing groups. I'm excited about the possibilities for these groups. It's a strategy that I am looking forward to developing and using again next term. I will report on how it works. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I can always use advice.


 Credit: by Daria / epicantus, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY license

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.