Five Things

Purpose of Exercise: This exercise is designed to get the students more engaged with the assignment prompt early in the revision process and to give them specific things to look for in one another’s papers during workshop.

Description: The exercise is probably best for workshopping an earlier draft of a paper. The instructor should have the students reread the assignment prompt at the beginning of the activity. Then, the instructor should either list off five major things or invoke five major things from the students that the prompt requires of the assignment (critical analysis of a particular thing, a description of one aspect or another, etc.). Once the five things are established, the workshop begins and the students should look for those five things and comment on their effectiveness, strength/weakness, absence, etc. 

Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

Procedure: The idea of this exercise is that the students will have something to comment on while they are workshopping one another’s papers and that they will engage more thoroughly with the assignment prompt. It will help steer them from making short comments or comments limited to grammar, punctuation, etc. It’s a pretty straightforward activity, and it’s not super exciting, but it is effective. In addition to making workshops more productive, it also makes students think about the things that they may have neglected to include in their own drafts. 

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Purpose of Exercise: The purpose of this exercise is to expand the overall cooperativeness of the students in the class and to increase their familiarity with word-processing technology. It is also a good route to go to keep students focused on the draft that they are workshopping instead of allowing the class time to devolve into social hour.

Description: This activity is for classes being held in one of the computer writing classrooms. Students should have their drafts uploaded to a central space, such as Blackboard, so that they can access them in class from the classroom computers. Each opens up his/her draft on a workstation, and members rotate around the room as seats become available. They use the Word comment feature to make comments.

Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Procedure: With the drafts open, the instructor should show the students how to make comments in Word using the podium computer/projector. She should also explain how to change the name in the commenter-box so that students can make clear who is doing the commenting. As one student finishes, she can look around the room to see when someone else has finished, and they can switch (given that they haven’t already commented on the paper at the open station). This can go on indefinitely. This method is also useful because it gets a number of different perspectives on each student’s draft, making the workshop that much more valuable. When the session is over, the students return to their original stations and upload their drafts back to the central location for later viewing. The instructor can also go here to view the progress of the drafts and the productivity of the comments.

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Balancing Your Voice with Others Workshop

Purpose: Students will focus on finding and strengthening their own voice and balancing their source material/incorporating their source material more effectively.

Description: This workshops works best after you (the instructor) have covered how to use source material. For this workshop students will need at least 3 different colored highlights/colored pencils. Students will highlight all the material that comes from outside sources, whether paraphrased or directly quoted. Most students are not aware of how much or how little source material they use. Afterwards, students will work on improving how these sources are incorporated and strengthening their own analysis and purpose between sources so that their own argument and voices are dominant. 

Suggested Time: Entire class


1. Working with their most recent draft, students should highlight in this manner:

  • All outside material that is paraphrase should be colored green
  • All directly quoted material should be colored yellow
  • All block quotes should be boxed orange

2. For the remainder of the period, students should draft their revision plan, focusing on how to make their purpose/argument more clear in paragraphs overpowered by source material or how to support their position with source material in paragraphs that have none. Student should address each paragraph of their paper in their revision plan, indicating what the PURPOSE of the paragraph is and their key SUPPORTING POINTS as well as how they will improve their use of source material to make their purpose and key points more clear. Students must be very specific

3. Finally, students will swap their draft and revision plan with a peer 

  • Each partner should consider the reasonableness of the revision plan and weigh if it will correct the issues in each paragraph, offering additional feedback
  • Each author should then make any necessary additions to their revision plans to include the advice of their peer

4. Revision plans should be turned in to instructor at the end of class. This is a good way for instructors to learn about students’ drafts without reading all the papers. These plans should be returned the following class.

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Eliminating Unnecessary Words Workshop

Purpose: Students will practice eliminating wordiness from their own prose. 

Description: In this workshop, the instructor should begin with a brief mini-lesson on diction, concise prose, and tips for avoiding wordiness. Using a recent assignment, instructors should select paragraphs or sentences from students’ papers and create a handout for the class with several selections (from as many students as possible). Students will work individually to edit the paragraph (one at a time) and then, using track changes on Word and the overhead projector, the class will work to reach a consensus on what will improve the paragraph’s prose the most.

Suggested Time: Entire class


1. Mini-lesson offering tips and strategies to avoid wordiness and have clear, direct prose

2. Prior to class, instructor should create a handout using the current drafts of the writing assignment. Select paragraphs and sentences from students’ papers that are particularly wordy. This should be a print handout for the students and electronic for the instructor to use with the overhead. 

3. Using the handout, students will work individually to eliminate unnecessary words/phrases/sentences

4. Call on students randomly, having them share what they removed from the paragraphs to make them more concise

  • Make these changes on the computer document to visually reinforce the difference between the original version of the paragraph and the improved final version—track changes is particularly useful for this
  • Continue calling on students until there is a class consensus

5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 on the next paragraph

6. In the remaining 15-20 minutes of class time, students should work individually (or in pairs) to do a careful, focused revision of their own draft for excessively wordy passages.

Note to the Instructor: Steps 3 and 4 work particularly well if made a friendly competition between you and the class. Compare the final version you come up with that of the whole class, offering a small inceptive if students beat you 4 out of 5 paragraphs.

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The Devil's Advocate: What Are You REALLY Saying?

Purpose: This exercise is an attempt to get students to see that what they think they have written is not always what they actually have on the page. It can also be attempt to have students forge their own opinions, in particular about a reading assignment, and be able to back up those opinions as well. Therefore students will need to have made a close reading of a text in order to be able to validate their idea and beliefs.

Description: As a workshop exercise, students will break into pairs and exchange a copy of their paper draft with one another. Each will need two blank sheets of paper for responding to the drafts. As a critical response to a reading, students will need to have close-read the assignment, and have two blank sheets of paper for their responses.

Suggested Time: 20 minutes to a full class period.


As a workshop- Students should come prepared with an early draft of their argumentative or persuasive papers from ENC1101 or ENC1102. Ask students to get into pairs. Then ask your students to write the following: 1) In one sentence, their main position or thesis. 2) A list of their opinions included within the paper ( you may want to say at least 3 or at least 5, etc.) 3)Any possible counter-arguments to their opinions. Then ask students to put that first sheet (with the three sections just listed) away and switch and read their partner’s paper. Then ask the students to write down, for their partner’s paper, the same thing they write down for their own: 1)The thesis 2)the opinions 3) counter-opinions. Ask students to bring out the original sheets from their self-analysis and then compare the differences between what they thought was in their paper and what an outside reader thought was inherent in their text.

As a critical response- Ask students to write a response or a short paper to a piece of fiction--preferably one that is wide open to interpretation (this exercise could work if all students were asked to read the same piece of fiction and then be able to discuss it, but I like it better with a response). Follow the same procedure as above.

Hopefully, some students will realize that their opinions were not well supported or that they did not express that which they thought as well as possible. Ask the class for some examples/highlights from partner discussion. This exercise also will reveal the different ways in which people read texts and think about them.

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The Wet Beagle: Show Me Don't Tell Me Workshop

Purpose: To prepare students for workshopping and the writing of their first paper. An easy exercise for demonstrating descriptive writing - and descriptive responding.

Description: This is a way of showing your students which subjects and what language are worthwhile for the paper assignment they are drafting, and also what you expect from workshop sessions. You'll write a 3-page draft (not too long to go over in a class period) of the paper your students are writing to go over with the class in order to model both workshopping and what is possible for the assignment (typically the first assignment). This can be a good exercise to do after the class has read Rick Straub's "Responding, Really Responding, to Student Writing".

Suggested Time: an entire class session

Procedure: Write a 3 page draft on the same topics your students are writing. Experienced TA’s may want to use past student papers of In Our Own Words but I advocate writing one yourself. If you write the paper then you can make sure it has all the positive and negative qualities that you desire. Don’t be concerned about the time involved, it is not extensive--I write mine in less than half an hour--just don’t proofread it (remember, you want there to be stupid mistakes and sloppy, undescriptive writing). You can also use the same paper over and over again in later semesters. Be creative, you ask that of your students. If this is a personal paper assignment, and you don’t want to share any moments with your students, make one up, or don’t tell them that you wrote it.

Overall it is a "show, don’t tell" exercise. Rather than tell my students what to do I show them in my own paper. This is an excellent way to show them what types of subject matter and language you think are worthwhile. I want my students to feel as though they can and should write anything they want so I try to choose personal (often embarrassing but serious) topics. I also show them uses of language, such as ways to use curse words effectively in an essay. I find next to nothing offensive and use this as a way of showing that.

However, this exercise can be tailor-made to show whatever you don’t want (repetitive, redundant, too long, too boring, spelling mistakes, grammar errors). However, at the core use some decent writing and some good techniques. The essay I use (for the first assignment) uses a flashback and "show don’t tell" techniques to try to tell the story of an entire night in actual time of a few minutes (both flashbacks and showing are new to and risky for students). I tried to make an opener that would suck-in the reader and make them want to read more (another thing I emphasize in my classes). I also try to get them to use interesting or at least uncommon titles (thus the name of the exercise) that add to the paper. It also works well to make a first and second draft of your paper and show students how to workshop and the process of drafting at the same time. Leave the second draft open for improvements.

The Workshop:

Project the example paper on the overhead screen and workshop it as a class, going paragraph by paragraph. You may wish to print the draft out and use the light board, as actually writing on the draft is helpful for modeling good feedback. Another option is to stand at the computer station and demonstrate the COMMENTS function in Word as you project the document. Choose the option that best replicates the eventual workshop situation your students will soon be in.

As you workshop, praise comments that are useful and don’t let students give responses like "I like that" or "I don’t like that--it sucks." Make them tell you WHY and ELABORATE on why they don’t like something. In essence, show them what you want from them as workshop responders. My classes always found things that I had missed in my own writing, and more often than not, found everything that I was hoping they would find. It is usually one of the best things I do all semester long.

I usually close by asking them how they would respond to this as a first draft. I ask if it has potential, should be scrapped, etc. Then I tell them how I would respond--this tends to give them as idea of what to expect.

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