Thoughts and Perspectives

The Anatomy of How I Teach: Effective Academic Writing, A Look at Words

Each semester for the last few years I’ve given a version (I change it some every semester) of this presentation discussed below to two Advanced Writing classes at the University of Houston Clear Lake as a guest speaker.

I love teaching, and my goal when teaching (or guest speaking) is to always use active learning to the maximum, so I wanted to use this as an opportunity to share some ways in which I accomplish this. I purposely plan activities such that every student must talk at least once, standing up, to the entire class – most will talk several times.

Anyone who has read my article 19 Things I’ve Learned about Teaching Undergraduates (so far) knows I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint, but sometimes, if used correctly, it can be very effective.

Before class while students are coming in, I pass around my MA thesis (a 170 page book) and let them look through it. I also aim to make general conversation about college, graduate school, and anything else that comes up. This aims to get all of us comfortable and used to each other before class officially starts.

After introducing myself, I show this wonderful video:

I then ask them, “What was wrong with that presentation?” The first person always says, “Everything!” I respond with something like, “What is everything?” We then have a brief conversation about what was actually wrong and how to avoid that.

Then (slides 3-6), I go over the brief history of writing. My main goal here is to emphasize that writing and communication always change and that academic writing is just one of many types of important and valid writing.

Slides 7-14 provide the framework for the lesson. I have questions that I ask them about each of the characteristics on slide 8, and this takes 10-15 minutes. I call on a student to read the first box on slide 9 and another student to read the second box. We then talk about them. The other slides in this section are used more or less depending on student comments and questions.

Slides 15-19 provide the first entire class activity. I call on a student to read the book excerpt on slide 16. I stop them in the middle, and we talk about it. Same with slide 17. Each time a different student is called on to participate. For slide 18, one sentence comes and the next one doesn’t show until we are finished discussing the previous one. I call on someone to read it and as a class we try to revise it. Slide 19, again provides general discussion for the term provided. Each term comes out one at a time. If you would like to see these sentences, let me know.

Next I show another video clip and we talk about it:

Slide 21 begins the individual activity. I give each student a few sentences to edit and revise. After about 15 minutes, each student comes up to the front. We use the document camera, so everyone can see and hear the old sentence and the revised one. As a class, we revise the sentence more, as needed. I also use this as an opportunity to teach little grammar lessons in terms of using active voice and parallelism, etc. Going over each sentence takes 30-45 minutes.

When we take a break, I play the “Where the Hell is Matt” videos. (The 2012 version then the 2008 version.)

After the break, we pick up on slide 23. Rather than giving the class definitions, I ask different students to look these up on their computer or smartphone (they’ll remember it far better if they find it themselves). I add or paraphrase as necessary after they read what they have found. Slides 24-25 provide examples; slide 26 is a about a 3 minute min-lecture. Slide 27 begins the second entire class activity. I get a different student to read each line of words, and then we discuss them as a class.

Slide 28 begins the small group activity. I give each group of 2-3 students a slightly shortened version of Scholarly Authority in a Wikified World with about six words bolded in each paragraph. Again, if you would like to see the version I use, please send me an email.

Slides 29-37 provide a mini-mini-lecture, but I also always ask for anything they have found to be helpful. These should all be self-explanatory, except slide 33. I explain that we have to use the Internet but must be careful using random websites. Although it’s recently been taken down, I use the example of martinlutherking.org, which was owned by the KKK!

At the end (slide 38), I get everyone to write a few paragraphs to evaluate the presentation.

Altogether, this lesson takes three hours. With my use of active learning, I’m talking probably only about 20-25% of the time during these three hours.

Student evaluations from this presentation can be found here.

Please be sure and check out my other articles published here and Inside Higher Ed. I have articles about teaching aimed at students and professors generally and more specifically for those in History or Student Success courses.

13 replies »

  1. I always prefer the interactive methods of teaching & learning. I wonder if the very mini- mini lecture shouldn’t start at the beginning though, to provide some sort of guidance & framework, before all the very engaging activities.

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  2. Thanks for the comment! 🙂 I actually did have them at the beginning the first few times I gave this lesson. They seem to work better at the end since it helps tie everything together from all the conversations.

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  3. @criticalhit009

    What ideas do you have to improve the photos, please?
    I have heard of prezi, but I don’t know much about it. I seldom use even use powerpoint. For history classes, I use it sometimes but only to show a photo or chart.

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  4. Um, avoid clip art and super basic stock photos? My basic qualm is that there are probably better photos out there that look nicer. Aesthetic preference, at least on my part.
    Are the videos embedded into your powerpoint presentation? It might save you some time by avoiding video shuffling, if you aren’t doing that already. Again, I recommend prezi. You can link in videos easy, and everything is saved in the cloud, essentially. College presentations became easier and visually striking when I used it.

    And psst. As someone who has veeery little teaching experience, I feel awkward critiquing an experienced professional. But I at least feel with some certainly that steps towards better aesthetics presentation can be made, though again, the presentation appears totally functional (it serves as a really good overview for me!)

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