Learning how to write well can be a challenge for many students. I am pleased to be able to share with you an article by Heather Hoffman. Heather teaches Freshman Composition at Loyola Marymount University and is the editor of Innerbang, a local literary magazine.  This summer she will be teaching writing to middle school children at the K &M Center. Read below to learn about her approach to teaching writing skills.

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Helping Students Get Serious About Writing: The Five-Stage Writing Process

by Heather Hoffman

In the field of writing instruction, teachers approach creative writing and expository writing in two completely different ways. Published authors teach creative writing in a “trial and error” workshop format: one student receives feedback from 10-12 of her peers, then tries to incorporate the feedback into her finished piece. In this model, there is little to no formal instruction. In contrast, expository writing instructors lecture about grammar, style and the writing process, and the students do all their work outside of class, with no exposure to constructive writing exercises or peer feedback.

In his book Teaching Poetry Writing (Multilingual Matters, 2007), Dr. Tom C. Hunley, a published poet and English professor at Western Kentucky University, proposes a co-mingling of these conflicting pedagogies: a mix of formal instruction, in-class exercises and peer feedback based on the Five Canons of Rhetoric.

Each canon represents both a principle of rhetoric and a step in the writing process:

  1. Innovation
  2. Arrangement
  3. Style
  4. Performance
  5. Revision

At each stage, students must compare their “written” thoughts with their “non-written” thoughts. That is to say, each stage encourages students to link what they want to say to what they have already written on the page; to approach their writing from a new angle, five times over.

  • In the Innovation stage, students engage in prewriting activities to get their thoughts down on paper. Activities include free writing, clustering, storyboarding and role-playing.
  • In the Arrangement stage, students add structure to their writing: an outline, plot diagram, or FAQ.
  • In the Style stage, students review a published piece of writing and then write their own first drafts, paying attention to how their use of complete sentences and paragraphs “flesh out” their prewriting and outline drafts.
  • In the Performance stage, students read their work out loud to their peers. They take note of grammar/style awkwardness and errors, and listen to peer feedback.
  • In the Revision stage, students approach their writing from a “goals” perspective: what are the goals of this piece? What can I change, add or delete to make this piece accomplish these goals?

In short, this process gives students the opportunity to engage in three passes of invention and two passes of revision, all aimed at helping them to think seriously about their writing.  While Dr. Hunley’s book is mainly about teaching poetry writing, he has also had great success in the classroom using this method for teaching both persuasive and expository writing.

Bio for Heather Hoffman

Heather Hoffman teaches Freshman Composition at Loyola Marymount University and is the editor of Innerbang, a local literary magazine. She has also taught Creative Writing at the Santa Monica Public Library and Expository Writing at LMU. Recently, her poetry was featured in Attic Salt and L.A. Miscellany.  Ms. Hoffman earned her B.A. in English from UCLA in 1995 and is currently working toward an M.A. in English from LMU (expected graduation date: May 2012).