Writing Group Lesson Plans for College Composition Class

The writers in my classes regularly get into groups and read their writing to one another.  If left to their own devices about what to do in these groups, the students are usually either very quiet or they point out what they see as errors.  In the spirit of trying generate conversation, we read an except from Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers.  During the class before the small group workshops, we practiced the methods outlined by Elbow as a whole class.  There were two brave students who agreed to read their work aloud to the class.  We talked about the text after the reading using the directions below.

Writing Groups in Action


  1. The entire essay gets read out loud by the writer or someone the writer chooses.
  2. Everyone should “listen” with a pen and, as Elbow says, “point” to words and phrases that get into your skull.  Mark these spots as you read or listen.

Complete 3-7 silently in your daybook and then share.

  1. When the piece is completed, everyone takes time to silently write ½ page in their daybook that describes the “movie of their mind” that occurred as they listened to the piece.
  2. Summarize the main points of the article by writing a sentence in your daybook.
  3. Choose a word from the text that summarizes it.
  4. Choose a word NOT in the text that summarizes it.
  5. Write a metaphor for the piece.  If it the essay were (an article of clothing, weather, terrain, an instrument, or anything else you can thing of) what would it be? In other words, I might say, “Jerry’s piece was a tornado.”

As you share 3-7 with your group, hopefully conversation will arise.

  • You don’t need to write it in your daybook, but how did the writer do when it came to a title, signal phrases, parenthetical citations, and a works cited page?  Can you help each other with any of these things?

After all the pieces have been read and discussed

  • Write at least ½ page in your daybook answering the following.  Explain how the group went today.  What suggestion do you have for improving the group’s interaction?  What went well?  What needs work?  What does the work have you thinking about?  What do you think needs to happen next with your essay?
This Semester's Writers Seem Especially Dedicated to the Process

My Reflections

As expected, the groups were slow to start but the students began to relax and talk more as the class went on.  I think I had the students writing too much in their daybooks.  The writing took awhile and I think it killed the conversation.  I think an adjustment would be to have the students write everything that is above except for the movie of the mind.  Someone could just speak that and students could offer their own thoughts in comparison to the one movie of the mind that is shared.

The students bring four copies of the paper to class.  One of those goes to me.  I think next time I’ll have the students write on the drafts instead of in their own daybooks.

Students are often late the day a paper is due.  I had students form groups of four and as soon as they had four, they began the workshop.  They were free to leave after they finished.  Some groups used the full eighty minutes and some were done in an hour.

One response to “Writing Group Lesson Plans for College Composition Class”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Bill. I do have writing groups in my class, and while they work sometimes, sometimes the chemistry of the group doesn’t work right off the bat. I am trying to go the paperless route, though, and trying to figure out how I can mesh online writing with some of the strategies you have here.


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