Organizing Successful Writing Groups

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EMCC_Kiev_Day2_01 SD by ELSA International on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseWhile collecting materials for my summer course, I found the Writing Group Starter Kit from the University of North Carolina’s Writing Center. This fantastic resource is intended to help students organize writing groups independently; however, it has materials that with a little tweaking are perfect for writing groups in the classroom, as well.

The site has a series of six worksheets that help independent groups both manage the logistics of their meetings and communicate effectively about their writing projects. Admittedly, I was taken in by the title of the handout Thirteen Ways of Talking About Writing Groups. I was expecting something connected to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Instead, I got thirteen questions intended to help a writing group set up its ground rules—very good and helpful questions, just not the poetic treatment I was expecting. Despite misleading me, I will use the Thirteen Ways to talk about how I am using the UNC resources.

First, I need to provide some details on the goals for the UNC resources and the needs of my course. The UNC resources are meant to help writers who are organizing their own groups. Presumably they will be bringing their own goals to the group, which will apparently meet in person. They will set all their own expectations for what is shared, when it is shared, and how the group will interact. The students in my course will have some freedom in how they work together, but there are some decisions that are either dictated by the course or by my teaching philosophy. For example, I am teaching a 100% online course and students are not geographically nearby. They will not be able to meet in person, so questions about where to meet are irrelevant.

Since the UNC resources will not work for my course as is, I am going to divide the questions into two groups: (1) those that are predetermined or that I will decide about for the course, and (2) those that students can decide about. I am going to use the first group of questions to help explain the way that writing groups work in the course. By working through those questions, I can make sure that I include all the important details. I plan to use the second group, which students will answer, as inspiration for a Google Forms survey. A survey will organize the responses so that the online groups can move quickly through the process of making their final decisions. If students were to answer all the questions in a discussion forum or by email, I fear that they would be quickly overwhelmed by the length and variety of the answers. Since Google Forms provides a summary of results, the tool will make it easier for students to compare the options and make decisions.

So that’s how I plan to use the Thirteen Ways questions. I plan to take a similar approach to some of the other worksheets from the UNC Writing Center to help ensure students have the structure they need to make their writing groups successful. Strong writing groups should help with my overarching goal this summer to improve online discussion in the course as well. Do you have any strategies for supporting writing groups you can share? Please share in the comments below.



Credit: EMCC_Kiev_Day2_01 SD by ELSA International on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

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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.