What everyone gets wrong about writing

If you’ve been teaching English for more than 20 minutes, you know there are many misconceptions about what “teaching writing” means.

Earlier this week, I suggested to readers of my PenPrompts blog that they have their students write an I/E text in which they identify and analyze something the public gets wrong about the subject they teach.

I suggest English teachers give their students a similar formal writing prompt focusing on misconceptions about writing. Here’s a sample prompt:

What is one thing that a significant portion of some public—not necessarily the entire nation—believes about writing that is incorrect? In other words, what are they getting wrong about writing?

To prepare students for the assignment, I suggest you pull a short article from some reputable on-line news source or magazine in which the author dissects what people misunderstand about some significant topic other than English class topics that will work as an exemplar. When unemployment figures are reported, for example, there’s usually an accompanying flurry of articles about what full employment means because the economists’ definition is different from the public’s understanding of the term.

Use the article as a reading comprehension activity. Who is the audience? What does the author want them to understand? How is the article organized?

With that as background, have your students write formal I/E texts about one belief people hold about writing that is simply wrong.

Students can restrict their discussion to what some subgroup of the entire public, such as

  • employers at businesses in Caterpillar Crossroads School District with under 50 employees,
  • residents of Caterpillar Crossroads School District,
  • students in the AP English class at Caterpillar Crossroads high school.

The list of potential topics is long. It includes everything from the role of grammar, to an explanation of what writers do.

To help students find their working thesis quickly, I suggest you have students write informally in class three sentences each of which identifies one erroneous belief people have about writing. Five minutes of oral sharing would suggest plenty of options for students to write about.

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