Effective Instructional Techniques
Written by Allyson Skene, UTSC   

The following teaching strategies have been used successfully by faculty across the disciplines at U of T to give students a chance to improve their confidence and skills in writing, while also learning their subject by writing about it. Many of the instructional activities in the first section can be implemented by course TAs, who will also gain awareness of writing. The assignment design techniques in the second section help ensure writing skills become an integral part of student learning in your course. 


Instructional Activity

Demonstrate ways to read and analyse the assignment instructions

Encourages students to read prompts carefully; gives an opportunity to clarify expectations; models meta-cognitive skills  Requires well-designed assignment sheet
Provide samples of student work (with explanations of why they are successful – or not)Gives students a concrete example that demonstrates expectationsUnless samples are from a very similar assignment, they may not address key issues
Provide detailed rubrics or discussion of evaluation criteria
Ensures a consistent standard; makes the hidden curriculum transparent
Poorly designed rubric will be difficult to use and can cause more confusion than clarity
Demonstrate effective strategies for reading sources Gives students insight into typical genres, methods, and evidence used in the disciplines; encourages students to read as writers  Can be taken over by content-related questions  
Assign in-class (or tutorial) activities such as a one-minute paper outlining the most important (or most confusing) point from the lecture or readingGives students a low-stakes opportunity to practice relevant skills and develop their assignment ideas  Requires some class or tutorial time
Conduct in-class (or out-of-class) workshops on particular writing skills (e.g. research, revision, referencing, etc.)Shows students particular strategies they can employ to improve their writing  Connections to assignment must be explicit; also, if out of class, attendance may be poor
Provide one-on-one consultations / office hoursEngages students with their own ideas and gives them an opportunity to ensure they are on trackRequires significant time and resources, especially in a large class
Hold a peer review session Helps students learn how to assess their own workNeeds set-up and coaching – and sometimes students can lead each other astray
Ask students to write a reflective piece outlining their own perceptions of their writingEncourages meta-cognition and self-evaluation, both of which aid in transferability of skillsUnless it is worth grades, students may not put much energy into it – or they may be afraid to admit weakness 
Provide formative feedback (written or oral), keeping comments focussed on higher-order concerns and your reactions as a readerStudents gain a genuine reader and have the opportunity to engage with their specific assignmentsSome students are reluctant to read comments on their work; office hours or substantial written comments take time 
After grading, provide group feedback during class or tutorial on common issues that students struggled withGives students genuine reader responses and a better sense of the evaluative criteria; can also be used to provide specific writing strategiesMay not be relevant to all students; takes class and tutorial time


Assignment Design  Purpose Challenges
Ensure assignments are authentic to the disciplineStudents tend to find authentic assignments engaging, and put more effort into themIt might be easier to plagiarize certain authentic assignment types (e.g., code or fact sheet)
Define purpose and audienceHelps students determine the appropriate level of detail and tone required for the assignmentStudents may still misconstrue audience if they lack requisite experience
Detail expectations for genre, research, argument, and evaluation Helps ensure students are on the right track from the beginningEven clear prompts leave room for confusion because of differences across courses and disciplines
Sequence (or scaffold) larger, more complex assignmentsBuilds skills gradually, giving opportunities for students to improve over the term; reduces plagiarismNeeds to be tailored to the individual course, and can require significant resources for grading
Provide writing-to-learn opportunities such as learning journals, problem statements, progress reportsGives students a chance to formulate and work through their ideas in a low-stakes environmentStudents may not take these seriously if not given grades
Include revision opportunitiesHelps students appreciate writing as process; gives them an opportunity to re-think and improve their ideasRequires care in articulating higher-order concerns that will most improve the paper, without demoralizing the student