When informed your teaching assignment includes teaching writing to teens or adult students, the first question you ask may be whether there's any possible way you can get out of it.
Smart cookie that you are, your next step is to ask, "Who knows the secret to teaching writing to students like mine who don't want to be writers?"
Hello, I'm Linda Aragoni.
I wasn't an English major.
Neither of my two masters' degrees is in English.
So what qualifies me to tell you how to teach writing?
If you need help teaching writing, it's smart to seek that help from people who have been paid to write and paid to teach writing: Being paid is distinguishes professionals from amateurs.
Through the years I've financed my eating addiction by writing and editing newspapers, magazines, an academic journal and books, as well as adult training materials in three of the four STEM fields, and stacks of marketing materials.
To be frank, much of my writing — the portion that pays well — is material people read only when paid to.
My first book was on how to install steam turbines, which gives you an idea how sexy my work is.
Despite my lack of a teaching certificate, I've taught writing, typically first year composition, at five bricks and mortar colleges/
universities and at three online institutions. Most of those were adjunct gigs.
I've never once had an English major in one of the composition classes I've taught.
Even the bubbly young women whose friends all love their poetry drop my courses when I mention steam turbines.
By contrast, the guys who hated every minute of high school English straighten up, square their shoulders, and get ready to write.
Want to know the gruesome details of my teaching and writing history? Prepare to be bored before you press the button below.
Would you like to know a bit about my philosophy of education? There's a button for that, too.
Every writing teacher should know what writing skills entry-level jobs demand, and there's no better way to learn that than working as a temp.
Between work-for-hire projects and adjunct teaching, I've worked a lot of temporary jobs, doing everything from cleaning rat cages to preparing payrolls. (Cleaning the rat cages was more fun.)
From those temp jobs, I've learned most writing done in entry-level jobs is short, informative/explanatory texts, and there's not much of that. So I have students write short documents to make writing a useful skill in entry-level jobs that high school grads and college students working while going to school will have.
Doing many short papers instead of a few long ones not only has workplace value, but it means my students go through the entire writing process many more times than other teachers' do. More writing practice equals more writing skill in the same amount of time.
What makes me good at the writing and teaching I do is my ability to make big ideas simple.
- That engineer's stack of documents about operating cranes: Turn it into a manual that workers in Southeast Asia whose first language isn't English can follow to operate a crane. They don't want complicated.
- That journal article by the oncologist: Make it simple enough that our pharmaceutical sales reps without college degrees can use it when they sell our anti-cancer drugs. They don't want complicated.
- That book on marketing by the university PhDs: Make it simple enough for first year college students. They don't want complicated.
If I can simplify those big ideas about which I know zilch, I can make teaching writing simple.
Just you watch.
I built YCTWriting.com and its predecessor, YouCanTeachWriting, to equip folks who feel unprepared to teach writing to teens or adult students but have to do it anyway — folks like me my first time teaching writing, only smarter and better looking.
I was shocked when the majority of that first site's visitors were English teachers with 15 or more year's experience. They had tried all the complicated stuff: graduate classes, seminars, webinars, professional development. They wanted simple.
To keep things simple, while preparing YCTWriting I omitted pages on grammar, punctuation, and related topics and I moved most of the discussion of writing prompts to dedicated site, PenPrompts.com.
What's left is simple.
My detailed statement of what your students must be taught in order to write expository texts consists of 10 sentences, fewer than 150 words in all.
I've squeezed what students must learn into eight essential, one-sentence writing strategies totaling 35 words for you to give to your students.
That's not a lot to learn. You've probably known people with Ed.D. degrees who could master that much information.
Piece of cake, right?
The method of teaching writing described here is simple, but it's not easy. You can't teach writing along with everything you're used to teaching.
Before you can start teaching writing, you have to select what is essential to teach along with writing. That means you have to do the educational equivalent of clearing out the house Gramma lived in for 87 years.
Like Gramma, you've got a lot of stuff you're comfortable with but which doesn't help you accomplish your goals. In fact, it may be blocking you from seeing your goals, let alone reaching them.
That's why I take you through instructional strategies — the equivalent of how to decide what of Gramma's to keep — before you look at the writing strategies students need to master.
Sometimes my life gets so complicated that I need help to make things simple. (There is no button for making things simple.)
If you're good at writing simply, preparing graphics that convey a message simply, or doing the simple copy-and-paste work of maintaining records, check out the Employment link (it's at the bottom of each page) to learn about freelance opportunities working with me.
I constantly refer to your website when planning writing assignments. All writing teachers should know about you! ~ Heather
PenPrompts.com helps teachers of high school and adult students use writing as a tool for teaching required ("GenEd") subjects students must take outside their major field of study.
PenPrompts is not specifically for writing teachers or people who want to teach writing. It is for any teachers who want their students to write better and think better.
I agree with your teaching philosophy and appreciate the way you verbalize it so clearly.
I never understood why teachers spend so much time on writing poetry and writing short stories when college (and life) writing revolves around expository writing.
I taught in public schools 8 years and am now educating my daughter at home. ~ Jimmie
I found your suggestions very helpful. ~ Jim
Just found your site and was so impressed that I forwarded the link to every writing teacher on campus. Your pragmatic approach is well-suited to our career-minded students, many of whom dread their required composition courses. ~ Cecelia