This is why I teach

Yesterday was the second to the last session for my Technical Writing class.

A-Plus-StudentBack on the first day of class, I asked the students if any of them thought they would be learning something useful out of this class.

No one, not a single student raised their hand. Technical Writing was a required course. They were in the class because they had to be not because they wanted to be.

The first day of class, I asked them to write a short paper. No one wrote more than 2 paragraphs and there was no rhyme or reason to what they wrote. It was nearly impossible for them.

This is good, I thought, I can work with this.

I’ve spent the semester teaching them how to organize their writing, how to identify the audience, tone, topic and purpose (ATTP.)

We’ve talked about brainstorming ideas on a topic and then grouping those ideas under appropriate headers.

We’ve talked about starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.

Week by week, through the use of examples and stories, I tried to get my students to understand how important organization of information was when writing. How easy it made writing.

Yesterday in class, I passed out a handout with instructions on “How to phone an elected official.” Outline a paper for me on this topic, I told them.

Initially I heard groans, but then I saw them get to work. They underlined and made notations on the handout.

On the white board, I took them through the steps listed below. They first identified the ATTP.

Then using the handout they brainstormed topics. Once they did that, they grouped the topics and realizing that some information was missing in the “order of events” (they added a section on how to find a representative’s phone number) they added additional topics.

Finally they put the topics into an order that made sense (they decided that chronological sequence was most effective) and surrounded that list with an introduction and conclusion.

Within an hour, I had these students, who had thought they wouldn’t learn anything devise a solid outline for a short paper. All they needed to do was to write 2-3 paragraphs under each identified topic and they would have a first draft.

If they then added quotes and stories, they would have written a “how-to article.”

I told them that there was not one student in the class who couldn’t take this outline and give me a draft the next day. Through organization of information, we had turned what early in the semester has seemed like an impossible task into one that was bite-sized and very doable.

It was the look on their faces when I pointed this out, that has made all of my work this past semester worth the time and effort it has taken.

My class of students, none of whom had wanted to be there, have learned.

***

This is an organizational handout I gave my students.

***

The 6 Steps for Reader Centered Writing
KEEP THIS HANDOUT FOR ALL TIME

Step 1: Analyze your readers. Determine ATTP
Step 2: Outline your information. Brainstorm your ideas. Write them down, use post-its, or draw them out in a web outline.
Step 3: Group like information under headlines.
Step 4: Sequence your ideas. Figure out the order in which you present information based on your ATTP. Include abstract, introduction, and conclusion.
Step 5: Write the first draft. Write at least 2-3 paragraphs under each header
Step 6: Edit for clarity, conciseness, and accuracy. Check facts, spelling, definitions, and if you have missed information that you assumed your reader knew. Make sure the document matches your ATTP (if the purpose is to convince have you done that? If it’s to ask for action is that clear?)

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

15 thoughts on “This is why I teach

  1. How gratifying! You were able to teach essential written communication skills to an audience who clearly needed it – even if they initially resisted the idea. In a perfect world, your class would be required for everyone in the business world who uses email, writes presentations or reports. The basic writing techniques are the same, and often sorely lacking. Bravo!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. I teach high-schoolers and am now trying to break them away from the five-paragraph standard while at the same time teach the importance of organizing their writing and conveying their message.
    I like your memorable ATTP acronym.

  3. A fantastic post – very inspiring and so wonderful to hear another teacher talking with such passion and clarity. Thanks for sharing this article. I look forward to reading more,

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