Teaching a College Writing Course to Disinterested Students

During their first year in college, many students are overwhelmed by the amount of writing required. It can be difficult to determine what kind of writing is expected.

Whether it’s an essay, research paper, lab report, or creative writing assignment, the key is to identify what your instructor expects from student writing.

1. Make it about them.

Whether you teach an introductory college writing course, such as COMW 1005, or an upper-division, university-wide writing course, students can be reluctant to do their work and participate in class discussions. They may be shy, a “Chatty Cathy” who doesn’t seem to understand the concept of respect, or simply not interested in the subject matter.

One way to make writing an interesting and rewarding experience for your students is to show them that writing is a process, rather than just a product. Share with your students the many stages of an article that you’ve written, from first ideas to final drafts to reviewers’ suggestions and revisions.

In addition, regularly assign short writing exercises that are clearly outlined in the syllabus and at the start of each class. These are great motivators, and the fact that you’ve made your intentions clear will be a welcome boost to your students’ morale. Using whiteboard games, grammar games, or word games with simple points systems can also be effective ways to encourage healthy competition amongst your students.

2. Make it about you.

You can encourage student engagement by giving them a goal for the lesson and letting them know when they have reached it. This will keep their minds focused on the task at hand and they may even feel some pride that they have achieved a milestone.

Having students compete with each other for a prize or trophy is another motivating factor. You can use a simple point system, whiteboard games, or grammar puzzles to create healthy competition that will make them work harder for a better grade.

Remind your students that writing is a process and they must take the time to think through their ideas before they hit the keyboard. They should also consider the many different ways they can convey their thoughts in a clear and concise way. This is the best way to make the most of their college writing experience, and it will pay dividends in their future. Hopefully, they will also take your words of wisdom to heart and put their best effort forward on every assignment.

3. Make it about them.

There are a number of ways that you can make your college writing course more interesting to students. One way is to incorporate a little bit of fun into the class. Some instructors have found it effective to use games and a healthy competition to keep their students interested in the class.

Another way to make your college writing course more interesting is to provide a variety of writing assignments and activities. These can include a combination of in-class writing, outside writing, and exams with open-ended questions.

In addition to these more formal writing exercises, you can also make your college writing course more fun by giving your students some quick writes or minute papers. These short, simple writings can be quite useful to the student’s overall writing skills. Some instructors even require that their students buy a set of index cards for the purpose of these writings. While you do not need to grade these cards, it’s a good idea to make them a requirement on your syllabus so that you can collect the best ones for feedback later in the semester.

4. Make it about them.

Teaching a college writing course can be intimidating for disinterested students. These may be shy students, those who simply don’t care, or those who can’t relate to the topics being studied.

A few simple strategies can make your class more appealing for students who are not engaged in the subject matter. First, discover their interests in your subject.

Second, let them know that you are a writer yourself and can relate to their struggles in grappling with difficult topics. Explain that you know how frustrating it can be to write, but that it is also a process that helps us clarify our ideas.

Tell them that they will be rewarded for good writing and that poor writing is not acceptable. This message can be reinforced throughout the term by putting it in the syllabus, commenting on early assignments, and giving them positive feedback on their work. For example, in the Business Writing class, you can say, “You’ll be able to communicate more effectively with your customers and suppliers once you master the art of effective writing.” This will give students a sense of control over their learning and keep them motivated.

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