Readings and writing

Get your students to engage with course material through reading and writing.

The problem with getting students to read material and write about it occurs when they can't see the value. The answer is to give them a purpose, to make the reading relevant. In the case of writing, provide successive opportunities for iterations of the writing task.

The following pointers on readings and writing may be helpful

  • Tell students why they are being asked to read and write something, linking readings and writing exercises to the course material and assessments.
  • Give a purpose to reading by setting up questions, why do you agree or disagree? Or have students note key concepts and questions that arise.
  • Choose readings that are recent and topical. Students appreciate up-to-date material. If you do use ‘classics’, tell them why you think they are still worth reading.
  • Trigger debate and interest with articles that are opinionated and/or controversial, as well as relevant to the work environment.
  • Give students an incentive to read, either through marks, or by making them essential for class discussions.
  • Use the iterative technique by breaking down tasks into ‘chunks’.

Provide incentives for reading and writing

  • Use reading worksheets that count towards the course work: eight work sheets and best of five count (25% of the course mark) or similar. Each work sheet is related to one reading and is one page long, testing their level of comprehension.
  • Set a test around the reading: 1% mark per week can be all it takes to serve as a good motivator.
  • Email a paragraph: students email a one-paragraph reaction to assigned readings—I found this article interesting, significant, boring, irrelevant... a day before class. Combine the responses and distribute for small-group discussion.
  • Ask students to select what they consider to be the most significant or interesting sentence in an article and to formulate two questions for discussion.
  • At post-graduate level: run a 20 minute presentation and critical discussion on a reading, which can be marked.
  • In tutorials: break up the reading by splitting into three groups of about three pages each. It gets students working in a group and makes the reading more manageable.
  • Task allocation: get students in a graduate class to summarise a reading and report back to the class. Get some students to critique the reading, and others to provide more readings on the topic.
  • Iteration of the writing task: rather than students writing a single essay, consider chunking the task into little steps. Use different methods: give an electronic library exercise (requiring in-text citations and a reference list), or use worksheets with small writing tasks, which echo what they are doing in the assessments. Set small tasks. Make them short enough to write several times, and use the repetition process to improve (write the first sentence to three main arguments, or write an introduction, for example).
  • Refer students to the Student Learning academic writing services: this is a great resource to boost first year students' skills in writing and referencing, while also giving some basics on how to read and analyse academic work. Students can also brush up their writing using the StudyHub resources.

“We know from experience that students, particularly in the first year, are reluctant to read. First objective: get them to read and incentivise the reading by having work sheets.”—Chris Eichbaum.