San Juan College Writing to Learn Toolbox


 Strategy  Art Walk
 What?  Walking tour on campus

 1. spend time with one piece of art with the class. Discuss three questions— What does it say (or what do you see)? What does it mean? What does it matter?

 2. Ask students to write their responses to these questions, share answers with partners and larger group.

3. Send students out in partners to find another piece of art, talk about it, and write their answers to the 3 questions.

4. Written follow-up assignment (1 page)—Your answers to the three questions about the piece of art you discovered.

 Why?  Develop critical thinking skills; Practicing analysis to lead into writing papers
 Where used?  English 095 & 111 (composition)
 Other possible uses?                          Any course that has CSLO of Critical Thinking Many ways to adapt from this base—have fun!
 Who?  Vicki Holmsten, English department,


 Strategy  The 25-word Précis
 What?  Students write a one-sentence abstract that is exactly twenty-five words long.

 1. After studying some content, either through reading, class lecture, or classroom discussion, require the student to write a one-sentence abstract that is exactly 25 words long.

 2. Write your assignment that you hand out to the students in a sentence exactly 25 words long.

 Why?  Develop the skills of synthesis, understanding main idea, distinguishing between main idea and details, writing skills of word sense and sentence structure
 Where used?  Advanced Technical Writing
 Other possible uses?                          Any course
 Who?  Karen Kramer,



 Strategy   Scaffolding Acquisition of Knowledge
 What?  Short, weekly writing assignments that connect to the topics of large writing assignments (midterm, paper, final)
  Incorporate mini-essay questions on quizzes and homework that (1) focus on a “big theme” in the course by asking about how that theme is evidenced in the specific unit, OR (2) gives them an opportunity to write about what they found interesting in the reading.
  For example, in HIST122, the question for the thought paper asks students to take a position and make a generalization about human nature (good, evil, neutral) and what motivates people (reason, instinct, etc.). Quiz questions throughout the course ask about how different groups or thinkers viewed human nature (Christianity, philosophes, Romantics, Marx, Darwin, Freud, etc.).
This process gives students confidence in answering smaller questions about content (knowledge) so that they have building blocks of information to connect and discuss relationships among in the larger papers (analysis).
Having open-answer questions about the reading also shows students that all information is relevant and not to just focus on what they think will be on the quiz when doing the reading.
 Where used?
HIST121 Western Civilization to 1700 and
HIST122 Western Civilization from 1700
 Other possible uses?                        Any course that has writing assignments that require demonstrating higher-level thinking skills
 Who?  Cynthia Rapp Sandhu, History and Philosophy,


 Strategy  Response Paper
 What?  Short (1 page) typed response to an article of interest that I provide.

 Read the article & respond, i.e., consider: a) what does it say; b) what does it mean; c) what does it matter (borrowed from Vicki) These are 10 point assignments that make up 7% of the overall grade in conjunction with another writing assignment called Free Write.

 Why?  Promote critical thinking, or analysis of information. Solidify knowledge by putting information in own words.
 Where used?  Chemistry
 Other possible uses?                          Short reports on a person or topic of interest
 Who?  Michele Berkey, Chemistry Department,


 Strategy  Free Write
 What?  Short written response to a question, a picture, a quote, or a comparison, etc.

 The first 3-5 minutes of class, I put up a paper with “Free Write” as the heading, then pose the question of interest, the picture, etc.

 Why?  Engage the brain for new concept, or review previous idea, encourage attendance & prompt arrival to class. 10 points is awarded to all participants (7% of overall grade – used in conjunction with Response Papers, also a 10 point assignment)
 Where used?  Chemistry at the beginning of class
 Other possible uses?                          During class, to vary delivery format
 Who?  Michele Berkey, Chemistry Department,



 Strategy  Ah-ha Moments in Teaching
 What?  Seminar Style Dialogue Prompt

 Pre-service and veteran teachers (or practicioners) share 2-3 ideas or strategies to begin class dialogue in a mixed setting that engages all learners. Post whole-group discussion, students reflect in a brief 5-10 minute window on one of their responses as well as that of a peer/colleague. These can be shared, submitted, used on a wiki/blog, can count for points, could be a ticket out the door, etc.

 Why?  To begin dialogue, engage each other in sharing and discussion, revisit best practices and high-yield strategies and communicate new experiences in a networking, public forum.
 Where used?  Alternative Licensure Students/Teacher Preparation Candidates
 Other possible uses?                          Any course/class with students who are in like-minded fields. After reading, during chapter discussion, through a think-pair-share format, before completing research or after, instead of a traditional quiz or assessment, to engage new class members, to vent, etc.
 Who?  Alexis Domme, Alternative Licensure,