Back to the Future: Preparing to Teach with Writing in the Year Ahead

Matthew Luskey

In the Fall semester, the University of Minnesota will resume its on-campus activities, guided by ongoing recommendations from the CDC. With an incoming class that is the largest in decades and the most diverse in history, the university will be an especially vibrant learning environment. The Writing Across the Curriculum Team looks forward to supporting instructors across campus and anticipates a great year of teaching and learning.

Though many classes will be conducted onsite and in-person, some will include blended options, and some will be offered remotely. As instructors prepare for the upcoming academic year and the possibility that the University’s Covid-19 guidelines may require further adjustments in instruction, it’s helpful to take an onsite-and-online perspective with course and assignment planning. Canvas will continue to play an expanded role in supporting courses, even those that are fully onsite, and many of the digital tools—Kaltura, flipgrid, VoiceThread, to name but a few—that were quickly adopted during the past year-and-a-half of remote teaching can continue to support teaching and learning in onsite and blended courses. Here are three suggestions for preparing to teach with writing—whether onsite, online, or both—in the year ahead.

Provide a Digitally Accessible Syllabus

Along with conveying important logistical details, a syllabus is often the first and a recurring point of reference for students. As such, it can be a powerful document for establishing a welcome and inclusive environment, articulating clear expectations for success, and describing for students the roles of writing in a course.

Instructors can further enhance these important dimensions by developing their syllabus with accessibility and visual design in mind. Through their Canvas site and the use of Google Docs, instructors can present their syllabus in brief, readable sections, making it easier to support students by directing them to specific content—grading policies, assignment deadlines, etc.—and vital resources, such as Student Writing Support, Peer Research Consultants, Academic Planning and Exploration, Academic Skills Coaching, and Student English Language Support. Even when a printed syllabus is handed out and discussed in class, a digital syllabus remains an important resource, and it can be more consistently formatted and easily updated throughout the semester. The Office of Information Technology provides guidance and support on how best to display your syllabus in Canvas.

Plan Synchronous and Asynchronous Writing Assignments and Activities 

Terms such as synchronous and asynchronous may call to mind our quick shift to remote teaching over the past eighteen months, but they remain useful for thinking about the timing and sequencing of writing activities in any course modality. Designing informal writing assignments for in-class or synchronous online environments can do much to support the immediacy of a learning activity, while designing writing-to-learn activities for out-of-class or asynchronous environments can be effective for preparing for or reflecting on learning.

More formal writing assignments will also benefit from sequencing that involves a blend of in-class or synchronous tasks, such as discussing an assignment and addressing student questions, and out-of-class or asynchronous tasks, such as social annotation, researching and drafting. Many writing activities—for instance, peer response—can work effectively in all modes of instruction, though instructors will want to provide protocols and procedures that align with the specific mode.

Along with reviewing our newly redesigned Teaching with Writing Resources, instructors can request support via the Assignment Hotline and through individual consultations.

We’re pleased to work with instructors on determining the timing and sequencing of their writing assignments and activities in all modes of instruction.

Offer In-Person and Remote Options for Student Writers

Meeting one-on-one or in small groups is an effective way to support student writers at key stages. Instructors can confer with students during scheduled office hours, while also offering a Zoom waiting room option. When their schedules permit, instructors can also set up their Google calendars to allow students to book an in-person or online consultation. When individual conferences are not feasible—and even when they are—instructors can share on their digital syllabus a link to Student Writing Support, along with this statement:

Student Writing Support (SWS) offers collaborative one-to-one writing consultations to help student writers develop confidence and effective writing strategies. Writing consultants will listen to writers' goals and concerns, read and respond to their written work, pose questions that help them clarify and articulate their ideas, and affirm the experiences and abilities that they bring to their writing. SWS values writers' life experiences and languages, and SWS seeks to provide a supportive space for them to share and develop their voices.

Consultants work with writers at any stage of the writing process, such as brainstorming and organizing ideas, developing a thesis statement or line of argument, creating cohesive paragraphs, revising sentences, and documenting sources. A consultation is often focused on a specific assignment or writing task, with the goal of supporting writers as they develop more effective and productive writing strategies to apply to future writing projects.

For Fall 2021, consultations will be widely available by appointment in Zoom and in, and on a limited drop-in basis in 15 Nicholson Hall. For more information, go to

In addition, SWS offers a number of web-based resources on topics such as avoiding plagiarism, documenting sources, and planning and completing a writing project.

Instructors can also request a five-minute class visit (conducted via Zoom) from a Student Writing Support representative.

Further Support

Our Teaching with Writing Program webpage offers teaching resources to faculty members and instructors across the University of Minnesota system. We also host the popular Teaching with Writing event series each semester, offering workshops, panels, and discussions on writing-related topics. Visit the Writing Across the Curriculum Program webpage and follow us on Twitter @UMNWriting. You can schedule a phone, email, or face-to-face teaching consultation through our online consultation form