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Characteristics of Writing Intensive Classes 

by Karen Carlisi

If there is no formal WAC program at your school, you can take the initiative to teach a Writing Intensive class.   These are the characteristics of such a class:

1.   The course uses writing to promote the learning of course materials. Instructors assign formal and informal writing, both in class and out of class, to increase students' understanding of course material as well as to improve writing skills.  

2.   The course provides interaction between teacher and students while students do assigned writing; in effect, the instructor acts as an expert and the student as an apprentice in a community of writers. Types of interaction will vary. For example, an instructor who requires the completion of one long essay may review sections of the essay, write comments on drafts, and be available for conferences. The instructor who requires several short papers may demonstrate techniques for drafting and revising in the classroom, give guidance during the composition of the papers, and consult with students after they complete their papers.  

3.   For each student’s course grade, writing is significantly weighed.

4.   Students are required to do a substantial amount of writing in the course--a minimum of 4000 words, or about 16 pages. This may include informal writing. Relevant to the course content, students may write analytic essays, critical reviews, journals, lab reports, research reports, or reaction papers, etc.  

5.   To ensure meaningful instructor-student communication about each student's writing, class size is restricted to 20 students.

Differences Between Writing Intensive Class and Conventional Class  

Writing Intensive Class

Conventional Class

-Writing is used as frequently as possible.

-Students write as they read, write as they think, write before they discuss, write after they discuss, etc.

-Students write an exam after they read, think, and discuss.

-Students in WI classes learn by doing.

-Students learn by reading, by listening, and by memorizing.

-Instructors use essay exams.

-Instructors use multiple choice exams.

-Learner centered activities are common (e.g. students write answers to three questions and discuss answers in groups)

-Teacher centered activities are common (e.g. students listen to a lecture on a topic)

-Writing assignments encourage students to discover new relationships and to restructure the frames that shape their ways of understanding the course content.

-Students take in course content through rote learning.


How Students Benefit From a Writing Intensive Class  

  • On a scale of 0 - 10, student satisfaction with learning in a writing-intensive class rates on the average about 8. (WAC Manoa)
  • When the course syllabus includes a variety of writing activities, the students consistently engage in critical thinking.
  • By including different kinds of writing assignments in the course syllabus, students have a possibility to respond to course content based on their learning style.
  • Students have greater participation in their own learning.
  • Students develop skills that support their learning in all classes.
  • Learning occurs in an interesting, motivating way.


How Instructors Benefit From a Writing Intensive Class  

  • In WI classes, instructors develop a better understanding of their students’ knowledge and abilities.
  • Students seem to learn course content better which makes the extra effort required for a WI class worthwhile for the instructor .
  • It’s rewarding to see students develop proficiency with language as a result of becoming more knowledgeable in the content you teach.
  • WI classes are more interesting and motivating to plan for and teach.

How to Handle the Workload in a Writing Intensive Class

One of the biggest obstacles which prevents instructors from incorporating writing into their classes is the assumption that writing leads to an unmanageable workload.  However, the following points demonstrate that the workload is not always increased by writing nor necessarily unmanageable.

  • Students can be used as co-teachers of writing through peer feedback groups.
  • Students collaborate to co-author a single text. This is also an effective method to increase students’ awareness of different strategies that different writers use.
  • All writing done in class is not necessarily read by the instructor all of the time. Much of the informal, in-class writing which students do is not intended for feedback or evaluation.
  • The instructor can give varying degrees of feedback. Extended comments can be given on every third draft. Or comments could be made on the first part of a draft with recommendations for following up on the remaining parts of the draft. If there has been extensive feedback on earlier drafts, the final draft can simply receive a grade.
  • Journal writing that is read by the instructor can be weighted in the final grade (e.g. 10-15%), but not necessarily given a letter grade.  A minus/check/plus system can be used to indicate the level of effort and quality of thinking.  Often, instructors appreciate reading journals because they can be very informative and rewarding.


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