Guide to Teaching FYWR Courses

Teaching first-year writing is often a challenge for new instructors, especially when their academic discipline is not writing. Sweetland has a new website to help with all aspects of course planning. The site (“Guide to Teaching First-Year Requirement Courses”) offers a variety of modules, each of which addresses a different aspect of teaching first-year writing, from helping students develop an argument to creating good writing prompts to evaluating writing. Each module contains summaries, links to resources and essays, sample strategies, and exercises to help instructors understand and effectively teach aspects of academic writing.


In addition to modules focused on the writing process, the site also contains pertinent topics for teaching first-year writing at U-M. One of the first modules on the site, “Teaching Inclusively,” discusses how to ensure that a writing class includes all students; as the module reminds us, “practices for teaching inclusively align with practices for teaching well.” This module discusses not only how to choose course content that values diversity, but also how to consider and reflect on problematic assumptions that instructors, or their students, may bring to the classroom. The website also has a module on academic integrity and plagiarism, which references Sweetland’s “Beyond Plagiarism” website, and a module on how to use Directed Self-Placement (DSP) writing in a classroom.

Along with the modules, the website offers both relevant writing-related resources and links to university resources that may prove helpful for first-year students (such as links related to “Health and Wellness” and a variety of academic support services). Integrated into the modules are occasional tips for using Canvas in a writing classroom.

Our goal is to make this a useful resource for U-M instructors when planning their FYWR courses and for revisiting pressing topics over the semester, such as grading or peer review. We are hopeful the site helps all new instructors feel supported and ready to teach first-year writing.

Peer Writing Consultant Videos

Sweetland’s summer interns, peer writing consultant Aaron Pelo and minor in writing Rachel Hutchings, created a great resource for faculty mentors of peer writing tutors.

Filming in the peer writing center this summer, Hutchings and Pelo created five live videos of writing center tutorials depicting a variety of students, consultants, and writing assignments. The videos are coded for the various tutoring moves depicted within them, so that faculty can select the sections they want to use more easily to fit particular classroom objectives.

Once all five videos have been fully captioned, they will be made available, along with supporting materials, on the Sweetland YouTube channel, for use by members of the national writing center community.

New Instructor Resources


This summer the Resources Working Group (Shelley Manis, Julie Babcock, and Naomi Silver) created several new faculty and student resources to address challenges raised by people across the university.

One common faculty request was help integrating written argumentation into their disciplinary courses without drawing attention away from learning course content. In response, the working group created two new comprehensive resources: “Teaching Argumentation” and “Teaching Project-Based Assignments.”

“Teaching Argumentation” offers strategies for leveraging writing to deepen content-based learning. It includes an overview of argument’s basic elements, sketches of the most common types of arguments, consideration of how argumentation is used to forward academic knowledge across disciplines, and concrete strategies for practicing argument building in the classroom.

“Teaching Project-Based Assignments” provides insight into designing writing assignments that encourage students to pursue answers to authentic, real-world questions in which they have both an educational and a personal stake. Based on recent research pointing to the crucial role of problem solving in student learning, it offers an overview of general principles of effective practice across disciplines as well as scaffolded classroom strategies to help faculty design and cultivate effective assignments. Like the “Teaching Argumentation” Resource, “Teaching Project-Based Assignments” guides instructors in integrating meaningful writing-to-learn into their content-based courses.

In addition to these fully developed resources, the working group updated existing resources in response to campus climate issues and shifts in pedagogical practices. A new section in “Giving Feedback on Student Writing” offers advice on “Responding to Student Self-Disclosure of Trauma” that makes suggestions for ethical response to the person’s experience as well as to the student’s writing. A new section has been added to “Using Blogs in the Classroom” on “Generating and Facilitating Effective Blog Conversations.”

Finally, the group created three new student resources and combined and updated some existing resources to account for evolving scholarship. The new resources are “How Can I Create a Strong Thesis?,” “How Can I Write More Descriptively?,” and “How Do I Incorporate a Counterargument?” The updated/combined resource is “How Do I Incorporate Quotes?,” which addresses both integration of research and citation practices.

The 2016 Summer Intern Experience


The summer intern experience gave two students, Aaron Pelo and Rachel Hutchings, an opportunity to fine-tune and apply many of the skills they have learned during their time in the Minor in Writing and the Peer Writing Consultant Program.

They worked closely with the Sweetland faculty on a number of projects, including outreach to summer term students as well as gathering and analyzing data on demographics in the Minor in Writing. They found that the Minor brings together students from a large diversity of fields, and that the number of Minor in Writing students in those fields was proportional to the total number of U-M students in that major.

The bulk of their attention was focused on creating supplementary materials for the Minor in Writing and Peer Writing Consultant Program. They put together a number of video recordings of consultation sessions in the Peer Writing Center, in order for those in Writing 300 to have more opportunities to observe real consultation sessions.

They reviewed two semesters’ worth of Minor in Writing gateway and capstone eportfolios, taking note of where students were succeeding and where there was still some room for improvement. With this information they then built an interactive guide aiming to highlight some of the basics of design and digital communication for first-time site builders.

They summed up their experience this way: “Interning at Sweetland allowed us both to have a hand in developing the programs that we care deeply about. We are excited to see how our work is employed and expanded upon in the future.”