Identifying Student Writers' Needs

How can you help students who have trouble developing or articulating their ideas? The crucial first steps, we have found, are to identify these students in the early days of the semester, talk with them about specific issues in their writing, and motivate them to work on these issues with you, your writing instructor, and/or tutors from the Writing Resource Center (WRC).  

There are at least two ways to identify struggling writers:

  1. You can assign a brief, in-class essay during the first or second week of the term. No one favors giving a writing assessment on the very first day of class, when you are trying to establish a congenial environment for your seminar. On day 2 or 3, however, we recommend having students respond to a prompt related to your course topic. After reviewing the samples with your writing instructor, you can follow up with students who seem likely to have trouble meeting your writing expectations.
  2. You might also consider asking your students to give you copies of their final papers from their most recent seminars. As you and your writing instructor read their work, you may notice problems with argumentation (formulating claims, providing support for claims, interpreting evidence), with organization , or with grammar,  syntax, and diction that students can begin addressing right away with a tutor’s assistance. You may also discover that the standards prevailing in an earlier seminar were very different from yours. In that case, it is important to talk with students about your expectations for the semester ahead.

Some of your students would benefit from regular tutorials beginning weeks before they write their first papers—but they won’t seek assistance unless you tell them they need it. We encourage you or your writing instructor to hold conferences with individual students as early as week 2, and to establish the expectation that all students in your seminar will avail themselves of opportunities to improve their writing. 

Please add a note to your course syllabus, informing all students that they can make an appointment with the Writing Resource Center at any point in the semester. For some students, supplementary coursework might also be appropriate.