Tips for Teachers

Writing @ Brandeis with Elizabeth Emma Ferry, Professor of Anthropology

Writing @ Brandeis with Vinodini Muragesan

Writing @ Brandeis with Dawn Skorczewski, Professor, Director of University Writing

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For Shorter, Snappier Writing

This exercise, which can be conducted over the course of a few nights or during a single class, shows students that they can sharpen their ideas and prose by taking out the padding.

  • Ask your students to write a piece (a summary, an argument), whatever fits with your course content.
  • Ask them to count the sentences used in that piece. 
  • Have them halve the length of the assignment while retaining the meaning, and urge them to employ different grammatical constructions. 
  • When students are done, you can ask them to halve the text again. 
  • Finally, ask them to evaluate which piece they like best--chances are many of them will like the shortest version best.
For Fewer Errors in your Students' Essays

Four easy ideas, three of which do not take up any class time.  If you show your students which mistakes irritate you, they will try to avoid them and you will have less to correct.

  • Ask students to bring in a paragraph of their paper the class before the paper is due.  Have them swap paragraphs and peer edit for spelling mistakes and stylistic mistakes.  (For example, you can have the peer editor circle all the instances of the verb "to be" and all confused uses of the hyphen in lieu of a dash.)
  • Ask your students to read their prose aloud to themselves before turning the paper in.  They'll notice awkward sentences and typographical mistakes as they do so and be able to fix them.
  • Require students to go to the writing center and turn in a writing center appointment form (a sheet which the writing center tutor fills out upon request).  Tutors help students spot errors as well as improving the ideas and structural aspects of a paper.
  • After the student gets his/her paper back, ask the student to write you a response letter in which they ruminate on your comments and identify and correct some number of the grammar and style mistakes you have marked.  Students who have to look at and understand the corrections you have made, are less likely to make the error again.
For More Complex Student Arguments
More complex arguments make for more rewarding grading!  A brief amount of class time can pay huge dividends!
  • Demonstrate the various types of weak theses and the ways to address them with this handout.

  • Choose a text (or issue, event, object, or phenomenon) that students won’t be writing on, then, as a group, go through the stages of developing a motivated thesis about it.  This exercise models the thinking that students need to do.  Follow up by asking them to draft a thesis of their own.