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Teaching Handbooks

barclay_barrios
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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

As an instructor, you know how useful a handbook can be, but how do you get students to engage with this essential reference tool? College professor Barclay Barrios blogs about this dilemma on Bedford's College Bits website. He offers twenty-five specific activities that use handbooks in the classroom. His approach is both fun and practical. Our three favorite assignments are listed below.

Integrating Quotations
Sometimes it takes some practice for students to learn how to integrate quotations into their own sentences successfully. One way to help them acquire this skill is to break a class into groups and give each group the same quotation. Groups should then integrate all or part of the quotation into a new sentence—the more outlandish the sentence, the better. The group with the craziest sentence and the smoothest integration wins. Review the material on integrating quotations in the handbook to help students with this exercise.

Attack of the Grammar Nazis
Ask your students to hunt down grammatical errors in the real world: business signs, newspaper articles, song lyrics, and more. For each error they locate, they should also locate the section of the handbook that addresses the issue. Use this also as an opportunity to discuss the contexts that make error-free writing most important.

What's Missing
At midterm, ask students to review the work they’ve produced so far and also the handbook being used in class. What errors have they made and what problems have they experienced in their writing that the handbook hasn’t addressed? In small groups, have them share these lists and then as a collaborative project ask students to write material to address these concerns. Share the results with the whole class in order to extend the handbook.

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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.