Fundamental WAC/WID Principles

Writing Across the Curriculum: Assigning Writing in a Content-Heavy Class

When students write in your classes, their thinking is made visible, they are encouraged to reflect on their ideas, and their learning can be assessed. Studies show that writing fosters engagement, higher levels of critical thinking, and transferable skills. We can even say that writing empowers students: the more they are able to develop their own voices and perspective through writing, the more they invest in and grow intellectually from coursework.

That’s because when you assign writing in your course, you transmit knowledge and you invite students to actively construct knowledge. Further, if students share their learning with each other, writing will foster community within your class.

Here are some suggestions for short assignments that can help students practice writing as a way of learning key concepts in your course:

Writing To Learn assignments that can help student prepare for an end-of-term exam

  • brief written reflections on lecture guided by instructor prompt
  • double-entry notebooks in which students record content as well as their responses to it (what do I understand? what questions do I have?)
    • metaphors that explain concepts/ideas covered in class; e.g., “a cell is like a bouncy house”
    • jargon journals in which students record field-specific vocabulary as well as definitions in their own words
  • student-authored practice test questions, which will make visible their understanding of the course content and its significance
  • ungraded practice exam with short-answer questions

Writing in the Disciplines: Teaching Students to Write as Specialists

When you name and model discipline-specific written and spoken conventions, you invite novices into the disciplines. You will also need to require research, reading, and writing in stages and build in time for feedback and revision to encourage students to try on new ways of thinking and expressing themselves. Consider, too, exploring the history of the field to acknowledge who produced the knowledge of the field and how. When you teach writing in the disciplines, you train students to research and write effectively within your field and potentially create future researchers and research assistants. Writing-intensive courses in the disciplines should improve students’ experience with writing and undergraduate writing overall.

Activities and Assignments that Support Students’ Learning to Write as Specialists

  • Analyze how model texts make arguments, show evidence, establish authority, and join conversations in the disciplines
    • compare and contrast disciplinary texts with non-disciplinary texts
  • discuss the history of discipline-specific research methods, and invite students to practice them
  • share detailed rubrics and assign peer review guided by these rubrics

Low-stakes assignments that support a term paper

  • annotated bibliography
  • engaging multiple sources in a theoretical “conversation” to see how their ideas relate to each other
  • a written cover letter turned in with the paper (final or draft) in which students reflect on what they think is going well, what they still want to work on, and where they think directed help would be most useful


Using Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines strategies, faculty encourage students to actively engage the course material