Conducting Group Conferences

Purpose: Sometimes you might want to try conducting group conferences with two or more students. This can make the conference week—which always seems long and draining—easier on you as well as reinforce the workshop ethos of your composition classes. The goal for this style of conferencing is for students to engage in collaborative learning, by helping each other develop their papers. In this scenario the instructor should think of themselves as a Panel Chair for an academic conference; that is you want to facilitate the dialogue between both students and the their work. This style of conferencing is designed to help with stamina, which can become an issue for the instructor throughout the conference week. This exercise shifts the center of gravity in the conference away from the instructor and onto the students. 

Description: Students have a tendency to write stories or analytical papers that end up connecting to the work of their peers. The purpose of group conferencing is to get those students together who seem to be writing in the same genre or on the same topic. In class, students tend to workshop with their friends (if you do not assign groups); assigned group conferencing can broaden the student’s engagement with other students in the class. As you conduct your group conferences students should be sharing with each other about the issues/problems they have confronted while writing their essay. The teacher’s job should be to help students see the connections between the group member’s papers; also, the instructor will want to get the group to work through the problems that they are having with their paper.

Suggested Time: 10 minutes for each student in the group. For example, 3 students equals a 30-minute conference.

Procedure: Although group conferencing can be easier on the instructor during the conference week, it does require some preliminary work before conferences begin. You will want students to submit drafts of their papers on Blackboard (or whatever course site you use) so that you can begin to see the connections between student papers. Then you’ll want to decide on exactly how many students you want and then assign groups preferably through your course website or Blackboard. Stipulate that each member must become familiarized with the other members’ drafts. Each student should bring a list of three issues/questions that they want to address during the conference. Students should also bring at least three comments for each of the other group members. You will want students to submit their questions/issues to you before the group conference. Be sure to stipulate that the students bring a copy of their papers to the conference.

On the Day of the Conference: The instructor’s job is to facilitate the dialogue between students, and to answer any technical writing questions that arise. Again, think of your job as a conference panel chair. You will want to mention the ways in which you see the papers connecting, and point out how the differences in how the students have approached their topic/story. Hopefully, your comments will begin to start a dialogue; if not, then you need to start directing questions to the individual members. You should try to tailor your first round of questions to how the students see their own work in relation to other group members. Once you’ve done this, then you will want the students to begin to share the questions that they have brought with them. Try to get the students to direct their questions to the other group members. For the rest of the conference, the instructor will want to keep the conversation going as well as answer the questions that stump the group.


  1. Instructor should make an opening remark about how the student papers speak to each other and the common problems that he/she identified when reading the drafts.
  2. After opening remarks, the instructor should ask the students to begin discussing how they see their papers progressing. This will be a time in which the students will share how their papers differ from each other as well as connect. The instructor needs to then get the students into a dialogue that helps the group members to develop their paper’s focus. 
  3. As soon as it’s feasible the instructor should get the students to share their questions and comments that they have brought with them. 
  4. As the group members talk, the instructor should try to formulate student responses and questions in helpful ways. For instance, if a student suggests a way that another group member can improve their work, instructor should ask: How does your suggestion help? Why should the student implement your suggestion? What’s the benefit of considering your approach?
  5. At the end of the conference the instructor should review the ground that the group covered as well as clearly explain what the student needs to work on and why. 
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The Early-Stage Conference

Purpose: These strategies are intended to help facilitate the early-stage conference; they particularly focus on invention, outlining, and thesis development. 

Description: Sometimes, conferencing a very early version of a student paper can be as productive as conferencing a later version of a paper. Early-stage conferencing helps build strong foundations for students to construct their papers and can head-off potential problems before they occur. Even if you require students to come to a conference with a working draft, some will only bring with them an outline or their thesis paragraph completed. Students should leave the conference with concrete ideas for their papers and (hopefully) feeling motivated and excited about their projects. The early-stage conference also emphasizes that writing is a mulit-stage process.

Suggested Time: 15-30 minute sessions 



1. Brainstorming: Brainstorming for a paper can take several forms. For a conference, however, the activities should be interactive. One of the best strategies for brainstorming is as simple as asking questions and having the student write down ideas. The “5 W’s and an H” (who, what, where, when, why, how) questions are particularly useful. The instructor’s job during this process is to help facilitate the development of the student’s ideas.

2. Nutshelling: Sometimes students have a lot of ideas, but no cohesive thesis. This activity asks students to describe their idea in two to three sentences (or in a nutshell). The objective is to have students develop their ideas concisely and specifically.

3. Burke’s Pentad (for creative assignments): Have students answer the following questions:

  • Act: What is the action?
  • Agent: Who is doing the action?
  • Agency: How was the act done?
  • Purpose: Why was the action done?
  • Scene: Where is the action taking place? What is the background for the action?

4. Tagmemics: This strategy asks the student to look at their idea through three different perspectives:

  • As a particle (or a single isolated entity). What is unique about the idea? What are the characteristics of the idea?
  • As a wave (or as something that changes over time). How has the idea changed over time? How does it reflect change?
  • As a field (the larger system or context). What is the context of the idea? How does it fit into the larger context?


Once the student has a concrete idea, the student and instructor can outline the paper together. The instructor should help guide the student and ask pertinent questions or point out potential weaknesses. Another option is that the instructor can require students to bring a detailed outline to the conference. If you assign students to bring outlines, consider how detailed you want them to be. For example, should students have already identified potential quotes or sources? Do you want completed thesis paragraphs and the body of the paper outlined? Make the review of the outline interactive. Ask student questions or have them elaborate on specific points. The student should leave the session with specific goals about how to proceed with the paper. 


Because the thesis is the most integral part of the paper, the instructor will want the student to leave the conference with as clear a thesis as possible. Both the instructor and student should work through the following questions: Is thesis statement a thesis or just an observation? Is the thesis too broad? Does the thesis have stakes? Can the thesis withstand the ‘So What’ question? Does the thesis on the page reflect the student’s intentions for the paper? These questions should help the student clarify the argument of their paper. Hopefully, the student can leave the session with a thesis statement in hand. If time runs out, the instructor should make sure that the student understands how they should revise their thesis statement and why. 

*Inspiration for these activities came from Dartmouth’s Writing Website and Hunter College’s Writing Websites. More activities can be found here:

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Research Conference for 1102,1145, and 1142

Purpose: Conferences can sometime center around certain stages of the writing process. Most times instructors think the conference is reserved for looking at a draft of a student paper. Thus, the conferencing process begins to feel like a doctor’s visit where the student comes with their paper, the instructor diagnosis the problems and gives the remedies. However, there are so many parts of a paper that one could just conference on a particular facet of a paper. Students sometimes have trouble looking for articles/books/essays when conducting research at the university-level. Typically, a student’s problem with research stems from an issue derived from their thesis. This conference is centered on helping students find suitable research material while also honing their thesis.

Description: The procedure below will help students find research materials that relate directly to their paper, as well as help them hone their thesis statement.

Suggested Time: 15-20 minutes.

Procedure: Preferably both the instructor and the student should have their laptops. 

  1. Student should bring with them a thesis statement along with some possible research materials (articles/essays).
  2. Instructor should review the thesis statement and research materials. Then ask students some preliminary questions such as: What do you hope to achieve with this paper? What are the stakes of your argument? How did you find the research you’ve brought today? How do you see your research helping your paper? What did you learn from your research?
  3. The preliminary questions should give the instructor a sense of the student’s project, and whether or not the student has been looking for the right type of sources.
  4. If the student is confident about their work so far, if they have a good thesis and some good research materials then the instructor and student should spend the remainder of the conference looking for some more research. Instructor should show the student some other databases that the student has not used, and suggest other types of materials that might be beneficial (for example, if the students paper would benefit from statistical analysis). Student should leave with at least one (more) source for their paper; they should see how the research fits into their argument etc.
  5. For those students that seem to be struggling, or for those that did not put the effort into their thesis or finding research: the instructor should first start with the student’s thesis statement. Instructor and student should work through the following questions: What type of discourses does the thesis engage? What are some keywords that student could use for research purposes? What is the final goal of the student’s essay, and what research do they think would be beneficial?
  6. The next step should be for the instructor and the student to begin to lookup some possibilities for research through the libraries databases and catalogue. Instructor should help the student decide whether or not the research the student finds helps the purpose of their paper. Instructor will want the student to articulate (persuasively) why the sources work or not.

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Conducting the Student-Centered Conference: Tips for Instructors

Purpose: These strategies will help instructors organize and structure effective student-centered conference sessions.

Description: This information is intended to help instructors have productive student-conferences within a limited time frame. These strategies are intended to make students active participators during their conferences. 

Suggested Time: 20-30 minute sessions


1. Get started by setting goals for the session: Before beginning the conference, ask students if they have any specific concerns about their writing or questions about the assignment. Try to set specific goals with the student that will structure the conference session. For example, a student may raise concerns about integrating research into the paper. The instructor can then say “During this session we will be addressing all elements of your writing, but we will especially focus on your concerns about research.” 

2. Have the student do the talking: One of the best strategies for achieving student-centered conferencing is to have the student read the paper out loud (pencil in hand). During this process, students will often find and correct many grammatical and sentence-level mistakes on their own. A good way to structure this activity to have the student read one paragraph at a time, and then pause from reading to reflect and address problems. This process also may prompt the student to remember questions or particular difficulties they had drafting the paper. Allow the student to ask questions, and take the opportunity to create a dialogue with the student about their writing. The instructor can also stress that this is an effective strategy that the student can do on their own. 

3. Ask guiding questions: Instead of identifying and correcting problems for students, ask questions that will help guide the student to think critically about their own work. These questions should require more than “yes” or “no” answers and should challenge the student to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their writing. Students will retain information learned in the session better if they have an active role in addressing their writing issues. Guiding questions will also help set the pace of the session and help keep the student on topic. 

4. Stay positive: Set a positive tone for the session. Help the student identify their strengths as writers, not just their weaknesses. If you do need to correct the student, don’t make it personal. Instead of saying “you are bad at transitions,” say “in this paper the transitions between paragraphs can be stronger.”

5. Review the session goals and set future goals: Towards the close of the session, allow a few minutes for reflection. Make sure the goals you set for the session have been met. Ask the student to briefly demonstrate what they have learned during the conference. This is also a good time to set future goals for the student to complete. This will emphasize the importance of drafting and that writing is an ongoing process. 

*Inspiration for these strategies came from The Community College of Rhode Island’s Writing website.

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“Underline, List and Highlight:” Improving Drafts in Conference

Purpose: This exercise helps students analyze three essential elements of their paper: thesis, arguments and research. It can be applied to any analytical or argumentative essay. It is designed to leverage one-on-one conference interactions.

Description: In conference, students will identify their paper’s thesis statement, main arguments, and source citations. Teachers can use this exercise to strengthen lessons in argument, rhetorical structure, research, and source citation. Students can use it to improve drafts of their papers for future revision.

Suggested Time: 20 minutes


  1. Instruct your student to bring the following items to your conference meeting: a copy of their paper, a separate piece of paper, a pen, and a highlighter.
  2. If the thesis is weak or non-existent, discuss strategies for strengthening or clarifying it. 
  3. Discuss areas where they can elaborate their arguments, as well as paragraphs that do not support their thesis and can be cut or edited.
  4. Discuss strategies to supplement and strengthen their research.
  5. Instruct your student to refer to this marked document and argument list when working on their next revision.

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