You Can Teach Writing

FAQs on teaching writing

Answers from Linda Aragoni

Below are some of the questions I'm most frequently asked about my way of teaching expository writing to teens and adults. If your question isn't among the FAQs, please drop me a note via the contact form and I'll send you a response ASAP.

Some FAQs from teachers concern terms that I and others use in teaching writing. I've put together a glossary that includes both definitions of traditional English class terms and alternative terms I invented to  avoid misunderstandings some traditional terms cause. 

To access the glossary from any page of this site, use the pull-down menu under the FAQs heading at the top of the page or click the glossary link in the left hand column of the page footer.

What texts does your instructional method work with?

My method works with any text or no text at all. The only material students need is access to a list of the eight strategies for reference until they master them.

That technology does your method work with?

The only technology necessary is pen and paper or its digital equivalent. Ideally, you should use technology that students are familiar with already.

Why don't you have students find a writing topic?

Outside of English class, expository writing is typically assigned writing. The assignments often include not only a topic but also identify the purpose, audience, and range of potential assertions about that topic. Approaching writing the "real world" way engages all students very quickly in a strategic writing process and lets students see quick results.

Doesn't your method result in formulaic writing?

It does initially. In fact, any writing method produces formulaic writing until students master it. Only when students have mastered a method sufficiently that using it is automatic can they devote their full attention to the ideas they are trying to convey in their writing.

Can I divide the strategies up to teach year by year?

Teaching the strategies over a period of years would negate their value. The strategies are designed to be used as stages in a process whose product is a finished document. They need to be introduced in a relatively short period of time, then taught (and retaught) as stages in the expository writing process.

How can one method work for all types of expository writing?

Complexity is limiting. Because my method incorporates a very simple writing pattern, it adapts easily to all types of informative/expository writing, to arguments, and to narratives. And because it incorporates a very simple writing process, it adapts to everything from short documents to book-length nonfiction and non-print products.

How can one set of writing strategies work with both teens and older adults?

The secret is in the writing prompts teachers prepare rather than in the strategies themselves. Both teens and adults apply the strategies in response to writing prompts their instructors design to fit their English class content. Regardless of their ages, students get course-related topics appropriate to their educational and life experiences.

Where does creativity come into your method?

Creativity can't be revealed — and often can't even happen — until a student has achieved writing competence and pushed beyond it through additional practice.

Will this work with 6 + 1 Trait Writing?

My method aims to bring all students to competence level. The 6+1 Traits attempt to move students beyond competence. Rather than attempt to use the two methods in one course, I'd recommend using the Traits after all students in a class have reached writing competence.

My experience has been that students can't determine how good their work is — where it would fit in the 6+1 Essay Rubric — until after they are competent writers. I doubt that students in their early teens are any better at those assessments than my college students in their thirties.

Can I use this with The Writing Revolution materials?

You won't need to. The Writing Revolution program is an excellent method of teaching writing over multiple years, often with help from other faculty. My methods are designed for teaching writing in courses that last from five to 15 weeks and in which the teacher has no support from other faculty. Choose either Judith Hockman's program or mine according to your teaching situation.

How do I fit this in with the other stuff I must teach?

You can't teach writing in addition to all the stuff you usually teach. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or crazy. You must set goals for writing and for non-writing content and lay out objectives that define the intermediary steps to reach those goals. Then you have to put all the other stuff you usually teach into storage until all your students write competently.

Can I use this method with elementary/middle school students?

I advise against attempting my program with pre-teens. The  combination of intellectual and physical maturity it requires isn't normally found in mixed-gender classes much below eighth grade.  You could teach specific strategies I teach earlier, however. Individual Mastery Plans and single-error editing can be used effectively as early as upper elementary school. The working thesis and writing skeleton™ can be used with middle school students.

visitor praises Linda's Talk It Out materials for teaching writing.

I called you a few times last August, I believe, because I was interested in purchasing your writing program. You even returned the calls at least once, I remember.

I did use your materials—and did so most enthusiastically—last semester at Indiana University Southeast. I retired at the end of the fall semester after 20 years at IUS and after 60 years of teaching.

Your material, particularly the instructions for students to work in pairs and help each other to firm their "proofs" [Talk It Out], was probably the single most helpful program I have ever received. I loved it.

My students suddenly knew what I was talking about! After all these years of teaching, Linda!

From then on the semester was clear sailing.

I also loved your attention to Bloom’s Taxonomy. I did often refer to Bloom’s T. in class this past semester, and I saw that it made a difference to students to be able to piece together the puzzle of this "whole education" thing. They seemed suddenly to realize the journey they were on and how it related to their goals and to their whole human being-ness.

Thank you so much, Linda. You have made the end of my teaching life everything I strove for from the first. It was like: "Now I get it!" ~ Marilyn Jones

Linda says this about teaching writing.

Teach all your students.

Make up your mind to be satisfied if all your students students produce documents in which a thesis statement is supported by two or three points, each backed up by between one and three pieces of evidence.

Few teachers can boast that all their students reach that level of writing skill. If yours do, you deserve a medal.

Content on this page was published 2018-01-01 by Linda Aragoni at yctwriting.com.