Videos Offer Lively “How-To” Writing Lessons

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I love to show short videos in class. A brief and lively video often sets the right mood in class, creating a communal moment, providing a shared language and new perspective to answer students’ questions about academic writing. When students are confused about how to analyze a source, for instance, and tired of seeing my comment on their drafts— “too much summary; not enough analysis”—I know that I need Plan B—a good “how to” video to help students visualize how to balance summary with analysis.

But most videos designed for composition classes are boring, another talking head or a slide presentation, narrated by a remote voice, distant and unrelatable. And as my students say, “they are cheesy.” So I started thinking about the potential of videos to help students succeed as college writers, and my editors and I decided to try our hand at creating an engaging suite of videos around three major assignments: analysis, researched argument, and annotated bibliography.

356390_HackerVideo_ResearchConversation.pngConsider the case of annotated bibliography, one of the most important assignment steps in writing a research paper. We know that students are often stumped about the why and how of constructing an annotated bibliography, and especially stumped about what it means to be in conversation with other writers and thinkers and what it means to reflect on a source’s contribution to their project. They ask important basic questions—what is a research conversation? How do I enter it? What is an annotation? What is the difference between summarizing and evaluating a source? And how do I figure out how a source fits into my project?

We wanted our videos to capture the types of questions real students ask at each stage of the process, so we created four videos, each around two-minutes long, to show students how to understand the expectations of the genre, how to enter a research conversation, how to write an annotation, and how to understand the differences between summarizing a source and evaluating a source’s contribution to their research project. 

I have included live links to two of the annotated bibliography videos here. Enjoy! I would love to hear your impressions, especially how you might use them with your students.

What is an annotated bibliography?

How to enter a research conversation

How to write an annotation

How to evaluate a source

Editor’s note: Your Bedford/St. Martin's rep can give you access to the full suite, including the additional two annotated bibliography videos as well as the videos for analysis and argument (four in each cluster). All of the videos are available in LaunchPad Solo for Hacker Handbooks and LaunchPad for A Writer's Reference, Ninth Edition.

About the Author
Nancy Sommers, who has taught composition and directed writing programs for more than thirty years, now teaches in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. A two-time Braddock Award winner, Sommers is well known for her research and publications on student writing. Her articles “Revision Strategies of Student and Experienced Writers” and “Responding to Student Writing” are two of the most widely read and anthologized articles in the field of composition. She has also created three films—Shaped by Writing, Across the Drafts, and Beyond the Red Ink—to bring the voices of student writers into a larger discussion about writing instruction. Nancy Sommers is currently the coauthor of Diana Hacker’s best-selling handbooks: The Bedford Handbook, A Writer’s Reference, Rules for Writers, A Pocket Style Manual, and Writer’s Help (see Her newest instructor resource, Responding to Student Writers, offers a model for thinking about response as a dialogue between students and teachers.