First-Year Writing Seminar Program Writing Exercises

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Most materials in the Writing Exercises collection have won the Knight Award for Writing Exercises, an award recognizing excellence in short exercises and/or handouts designed to improve student writing and for use in First-Year Writing Seminars. Award winners address topics from a wide range of writing issues such as development of theses, use of primary sources, organization of evidence, awareness of audience, and attention to sentence patterns. Exercises and handouts may be for in and/or out of class use. Materials include a rationale for future instructors.


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Now showing 1 - 10 of 54
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    The Pros and Cons of “Cosmopolitanism”: Toward a Comparative Argumentative Essay
    Shou, Tianyi (2023)
    This sequence of exercises is centered around the final project, in which students are asked to write a comparative argumentative essay in response to the term “cosmopolitanism.” Spanning across four weeks at the end of the term, the sequence that leads up to an 8-10-page essay aims at helping students craft a critical, comparative outlook in handling complex research topics, as well as developing skills of presenting ideas in a collaborative intellectual community.
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    Writing in Style
    Brown, Abigail (2023)
    The Writing in Style exercise aims to help students understand the importance of writing style, define their writing style in a course-related application, and explore their compositional choices. The modular activities make style approachable with individual and group work that builds on familiar writing skills, encourages revision, utilizes relevant course and cultural materials, and models an application of AI technology to the writing process.
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    Showing and Telling: The Ethnographer's Trade Secrets
    Horner, Rachel (2022)
    This worksheet introduces students to the distinctions between active and passive descriptions, which I describe here as ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ respectively, to demonstrate how writing from observation-based details, rather than conclusions drawn from these details, often makes for more engaging and effective writing. Although the worksheet centers ethnography and thus might be best suited for instructors and students in the social sciences, it can easily be tailored to teach descriptive writing in any discipline.
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    Curating an Exhibit
    Jao, Charline (2022)
    In this activity, the metaphor of a museum exhibit allows students to think more critically about how they incorporate sources into an argument. Rather than simply talking about texts on the surface-level, this exercise encourages them to explore more nuanced critical maneuvers and to think about texts in conversation. By showing students how their choice of texts allows them to expand, criticize, or refine ideas (rather than just stating them), “Curating an Exhibit” encourages a deeper engagement with primary sources and provides practice for thesiswriting.
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    Handout: Undertaking synthesis in your literature review
    Robinson, Ewan (2021)
    Alongside this handout, students worked in groups to analyze two example literature reviews that modeled different structures for conducting synthesis at the paragraph and sentence levels. Students created reverse outlines of the model texts and identified specific writing features (transitions, pointing words, comparison words, etc.) used by the authors to narrate the relationship among their sources (i.e. to accomplish the goal of synthesis). The handout below and the model texts served as references for students as they revised their preparatory writing into draft body paragraphs during the following week. Students reported that having a clear explanation and demonstrations of synthesis helped them to make specific recommendations to one another during subsequent peer review.
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    Using Examples to Illustrate Concepts
    Southgate, Libby (2021)
    This writing exercise helps students develop the ability to develop and deploy examples to illustrate concepts or ideas. The exercise is in three parts. In the first, the whole class reads and then discusses examples of writing where an author has used an example to illustrate a concept/idea (passages taken from texts used in class). In the second, the students work in groups to develop their own example, which is then work-shopped as a whole class. Lastly, the students write their example out in prose. This exercise was completed on zoom using interactive google slides in lieu of a physical worksheet, but it would work just as well as a physical worksheet.
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    Anticipating Counterarguments to Deepen Comprehension
    Estrella, Ariel (2021)
    Students strengthen their argumentative skills by answering the same prompt from two different perspectives. Students are then provided questions for a guided reflection on the process. This activity promotes a deeper reading comprehension by arguing for both sides of a dialectic. In doing so, students unveil a text’s contradictions, wordplay, and ambiguities. This assignment can be used to develop a habit of expecting counterarguments and/or to generate an in-class discussion about craft.
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    Reverse Outlining a Published Article
    Post, Ryan (2018)
    With the goal of improving the organization of students' writing, this exercise asks students to create a reverse outline of the introductory section of a published article. For each paragraph, students must a) give the paragraph a "title" conveying its main point; b) in bullet points, summarize key information the paragraph describes; and c) determine what purpose this paragraph serves for the piece as a whole. For homework, students write a reverse outline of their essay.
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    Sentence Structure Variation
    Armstrong, Kacie (2018)
    This exercise was designed to help students understand the importance of sentence structure variation. A model passage was used to dissect and evaluate sentence structure variety, and then students practiced this skill in their own writing. Ultimately, students learned to vary sentence structure in order to achieve the quick pacing and rhythmic structure that is characteristic of editorial writing.
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    Writing to Read
    Gunhan, Aslihan (2019)
    This assignment is tailored to function as a "Writing to Read" exercise that was conducted in the classroom. By giving the students short prompts, I asked them to consider themselves in different positions (like a journal editor, an author in the same field, a writing tutor) and give feedback to one specific essay which they collectively found unsuccessful.