Mountains to climb

Teaching academic (as opposed to personal) writing is often tedious for both me and the students. I much prefer talking about voice and style in their personal narratives.

So this time around, I tried a new process, and I am pleased with the results. I knew the students had varying degrees of understanding about Shakespeare and the Renaissance Period. Knowing they also have interests in specific areas such as music and art, I felt comfortable in letting them choose a direction for their research that might tie with those personal interests. As we read Romeo and Juliet aloud during the class time, I asked them to begin learning about the time period for homework.

They spent their evenings compiling information on a variety of topics: culture, religion, food, science. At the end of the week, I asked them to create a wiki to showcase what they had found. I asked them to paraphrase, use bullets, and include images, diagrams, or videos to help the rest of the class understand what they had discovered.

Next, we spent a couple of days reading each other’s work on the wiki. I gave them a list of questions so they would have to visit a random number of pages to answer the right number of questions. We shared our thoughts and examples of interesting facts over the next few days.

Finally, each student had to choose either his own topic or someone else’s to write a mini-research paper. All information and resources were freely shared among the students.

As they began to work on drafts, we talked about how to draw a conclusion about what they had read and researched. I posed questions such as: What did you discover as you read about women during the Renaissance? What conclusions can you draw about women’s roles during that time period? How were you feeling as you read? What were their lives like then compared to current times? Ancient times?

The answers to the questions became the basis for the thesis statement. I was pleased with how easily they were able to think beyond the facts and actually state a position based on the research. And because the research was readily available on the wiki, they knew who the experts were, who to go to for help. Each other.

As they began to edit their final drafts, they shared their work in Google Docs with each other. Then, during our snowstorm, they shared the final version with me!

I am pleased with their work, and I believe they have a better understanding, too, of what it means to gather information, cite sources, and draw conclusions.

And for those who didn’t quite master the writing? They get to do it again:)


  1. What a great process. I particularly liked how they researched first then came up with thesis statements. A great way to show them that they can think and that they are not just repeating information they find through their research.

  2. Writing’s called personal when we seek words adequate to our experience — a hard enough task. It becomes academic when we push to the even harder problem of deciding what in our words can possibly be true, when we become determined that the words we find for our experience must not deceive, not even ourselves. Especially not ourselves.

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