Process-Based Approaches: Suggested Activities

Here you'll find a brief introduction to each stage of the writing process (as it's commonly discussed in WAC literature), as well as a list of suggested activities that represent each stage. If you'd like more information or demonstrations of specific techniques, contact Rebecca Taylor (

I. Invention/ Prewriting Activities

Here most writing teachers focus on helping students get started with their writing projects, discover what they do (and don't!) already know about specific topics, and work to develop greater fluency as writers. Some invention and prewriting activities can take place during the first five or ten minutes of class; many may not need to be graded or even collected. Some teachers also use brief prewriting activities (entrance cards, critical question exchanges, and so on) in order to prime students for discussion and ensure that "dead air" doesn't ensue.

Focus: Writing to Discover

  • freewriting
  • brainstorming
  • clustering
  • surveying
  • outlining
  • listing
  • tree diagrams
  • twenty questions
  • entrance cards
  • critical question groups

Focus: Writing to Reflect

  • journals
  • response cards
  • connections lists
  • devil's advocate paragraphs/ "Jekyll and Hyde" activity
  • double entry notebooks
  • reader response papers

Focus: Writing to Gain Fluency

  • imitation exercises
  • parodies
  • extended or focused freewrites
  • diary-keeping

II. Drafting Activities/ Assignments

Talk frankly about your own drafting processes. My students love to hear that I write "fake introductions" because of some ongoing battles with writer's block. Consider bringing in samples of your own work in progress to help students see that real writers use multiple strategies as they draft. Also, offer students a wide variety of discipline-appropriate genres in which to draft. Students who are brilliant writers of personal narratives may flounder when asked to do a lab report; your best writers of thesis-driven research essays may need to learn how to write a good concert review.

Consider these genres:

  • summaries
  • reviews
  • analysis papers
  • synthesis papers
  • comparison/ contrast papers
  • annotated bibliographies
  • inquiry essays
  • letters to the editor
  • book/ concert/ lecture/ film/ cd reviews
  • write up of class notes
  • proofs or theorems
  • lab reports
  • lesson plans
  • homilies
  • lectures

III. Revision Activities/ Assignments

Revision is the real work of the FTS writing component. Many of our students report that they've never written more than a single draft of a paper; most succeeded in high school without ever doing substantive revision. The first time that they realize they need to change a thesis, incorporate new evidence, rewrite entire pages of material, reread course texts in order to write more substantive analyses--well, let's just say that these can be painful moments. Work hard to make revision a normal, ongoing part of the course so that students become habitual revisers. Consider the following strategies:

  • have students submit multiple drafts (and give them real deadlines)
  • require at least one writer-instructor conference per semester
  • incorporate peer response sessions into the course
  • ask students to rewrite essays using a different voice, persona, or point of view
  • ask students to rewrite a published piece in a new genre (turn a lab report into a poem; turn a poem into an essay)
  • ask students to submit reflective responses with their rough drafts; require students to submit revision plans or revision summaries with their revised drafts
  • require or suggest writing center visits

IV. Editing Activities

Editing should be viewed as the final stage of the writing process. Place emphasis on the student's responsibility for editing. Research suggests that premature editing contributes to writer's block and squelches important opportunities for discovery and revision. Focus on readability--errors matter most when they interfere with a reader's ability to make sense of the material. Pay most attention to repeated patterns of error, and make students responsible for studying these errors in the handbook or working with you or writing center tutors to correct them. A word to the wise: correcting errors on student papers will waste tremendous amounts of your time. Point them out, name them if you must--but don't try to fix each error that you see.
Here are some strategies:

  • use "minimal marking" strategy to respond to errors on drafts, particularly when working with a final draft
  • ask students to keep error logs to chart patterns of error
  • use peer editing sessions the day before a paper is due
  • remind students to read their papers aloud to edit
  • suggest that students read papers line by line to edit, covering the text so that only one line shows at a time
  • give students the chance to edit the texts of others--you might create or find texts that have been poorly edited in your field of study