Writing to Learn

As you think about ways to introduce or integrate writing to your course design, consider adding a few low-stakes or informal writing activities as a way to further promote learning and critical thinking. Often assigned in short windows of time (let’s say, 5-10 minutes or less), either in-class or out-of-class, these low-stakes writing activities offer the following benefits, among many:

  • Help to build students’ confidence and comfort level with writing
  • Encourage students to brainstorm and explore ideas
  • Focus students on the topic or issue at hand
  • Get students more self-motivated to write
  • Help students to view writing as a process
  • Promote critical thinking
  • Help you assess students’ understanding of the material

A few examples of low-stakes writing are:

  • Questions for in-class freewrites, followed by discussion
  • Discussion boards, wikis, or blog entries
  • Study or review questions
  • Informal summaries or reading notes
  • Concept or exploratory papers
  • Reflective journals
  • Research logs
  • Very short (less than a page) microtheme assignments

Promoting writing that is not yet formalized into a finished product will not only help to combat last-minute and underdeveloped writing but also encourage students to think critically and more clearly, through their writing. These low-stakes critical-thinking tasks help to reinforce and deepen your students’ knowledge, enhance their preparation for class, encourage more direct and self-motivated engagement with the material, and ultimately improve the quality of their finished product.

Additional Resources:

For additional resources on ways to use low-stakes, also known as “write-to-learn” tasks, to create powerful homework, sample assignments, and grade low-stakes writing, click here

John Bean: Engaging Ideas (Chapter 1 is a great way to start)

The Elements of Teaching Writing – A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines by Katherine Gottschalk and Keith Hjortshoj (Chapter 5)

For a fuller definition of Writing to Learn and additional examples of writing activities, visit the WAC Clearinghouse by Colorado State University, especially the following page: