A Guide for Writing Intensive Courses

The WAC guide to teaching Writing Intensive courses, including sample assignments and syllabi.

About Writing Intensive Courses

The WAC Requirement

The York College Writing Across the Curriculum requirement legislated by the York College Senate in May, 2001 includes provisions for Writing Enhancement in General Education courses and for Writing Intensive courses in all the disciplines.

The provision for Writing Enhancement reads:

"All courses included among the College’s General Education requirements will be designated and taught as Writing Enhanced."

It continues by specifiying that the writing activities and assignments be "designed to develop students’ competence in reading, critical thinking, and writing." Writing enhanced courses not only include writing; they use it as a means to develop thinking and the ability to express thoughts.

Completing three Writing Intensive courses is a graduation requirement at York College. The specific number of courses that each student must take depends upon whether the student started at the College as a freshman or entered the College as a transfer student. These courses exemplify the principles of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) movement by advancing writing skills within the disciplines. A Writing Intensive course is a work-in-progress for the student. It is another way to move the student toward becoming a liberally educated person who can think critically and communicate effectively in a given discipline.

All instructors of courses that can be offered in fulfillment of the York College General Education requirement have a responsibility to incorporate informal writing-to-learn exercises and writing assignments-not only to promote the learning of the material, but to develop students’ competencies in analytical reading, critical thinking, and writing.

A handbook is available to all General Education instructors to share best practices in using writing within the context of General Education courses.

An important aim of the WI requirement is to help master the skills needed to write for the curriculum of a particular discipline in the language and style preferred in that field.

The provision for Writing Intensive Courses reads:

"For graduation the College will require completion of two designated Writing Intensive (WI) courses in the lower division of the curriculum (at the 100- or 200- level) . . . and one designated WI course in the upper division (at the 300-level or above), within the major discipline design."

"WI courses are subject-area courses that build on the foundational writing courses (English 125 and Writing 301, 302, or 303) to practice and extend skills in reading, critical thinking, and writing by incorporating guided writing assignments."

This second provision of the WAC legislation requires students to elect the appropriate number of WI courses, and requires the academic disciplines to define and designate WI courses in sufficient numbers for students to be able to meet the requirement in a timely way. Courses may be designated either on a semester-to-semester basis, or as a permanent part of the curriculum.

An emphasis on high-stakes writing assignments (see "Low- and High-Stakes Writing" on pages 24-25) also distinguishes WI courses from the Writing Enhanced courses in General Education.

Currently, students who entered York College in or after Fall 2003 must complete a minimum of three writing intensive (WI) courses, two in the lower division, and one in the upper division within the major.

Defining a Writing Intensive Course

The York College WAC program is built on the model of a "spiral curriculum," and the Writing Intensive courses play a key role in that model. The WI courses extend the learning of the foundational writing courses to new contexts in the disciplines. To repeat the language of the provision:

Faculty members and students must understand that there is a distinction between a WI course and a course that is intense because it includes a lot of writing.

  • A WI course includes carefully crafted formal writing assignments that are linked to the unfolding of course material. Assignments are not "add-ons."
  • Formal writing assignments are guided; that is, assignment sheets are detailed and students receive ongoing feedback and advice on work in progress.
  • The assignments and guidance build on the work of the foundational writing courses to promote a common vocabulary and approach to the writing process; there is an emphasis on critical reading and thinking as well as an insistence on professional preparation of written work.

The designated WI courses must meet defined criteria because they are part of a graduation requirement; completion of WI courses is noted formally on each student’s transcript.

Rationale and Criteria for Writing Intensive Courses

The criteria for WI courses keep the focus on the process of engaging students in writing activities for the discipline in a way that can lead to improved reading, writing, and thinking skills. These criteria are based on the recommendations of the CUNY-wide Faculty Advisory Committee for WAC.

  1. "Formal papers" means that these assignments usually draw upon reading and/or research and require thought, planning, organization, reflection, and some form of scholarly research. "Finished pages" means the standard typed,double-spaced page with one-inch margins. Note: Essay examinations are not formal papers because they do not involve planning and revision. Therefore, essay examinations are not included toward the 10-12 finished pages required in WI courses.
  2. Papers are assigned in a way that further develops students’ writing competence through a process of drafting and revision, drawing on the learning of the foundational courses, with individual feedback on work in progress.
  3. This pedagogical design involves working with each student in a process approach that systematically moves the student toward a final paper. This process is introduced in English 125 and in the Writing 300 courses.
  4. The process requires the student to think critically, revise, and edit the paper so that the final submission is closer to the goal of the assignment. In upper-division WI courses, the paper should begin to reflect the dexterity of communication skills needed in graduate school and the workplace.
  • Some in-class attention is given to the writing process.
  • Informal reading, critical thinking, and writing activities are used during the semester.
  • Instead of the traditional "assign-and-grade" approach, instructors of WI courses take responsibility for helping students learn how to complete their assignments, and in the process, students learn to write better. These teachers do so by:
    • preparing written assignment sheets and responding to work in progress
    • arranging for students to respond to classmates’ work in progress
    • explaining the format(s) particular to their own discipline in which written work must be completed
    • giving feedback that lets students know where their work has succeeded and where it has fallen short.
  • Course grades are based in significant part on student’s written work. The percentage of the final grade determined by formal writing is, of course, at the instructor’s discretion in the context of each course. A survey of faculty practices indicates that written work, including the process that leads to the final submission, generally accounts for 40% to 60% of the final grade in many WI courses.
  • The special objectives of a WI course are incorporated into the syllabus. Students need to know why a particular course is designated WI and how this affects the coursework. An explanation is needed in class and on the course syllabus. This explanation should include a clear description of the process that an instructor will use to move students toward the final submission and the role preliminary submissions will have in the paper’s ultimate grade, preferably on the course syllabus.
  • Course enrollment is capped at 25 so that student work receives appropriate attention and that the process of writing for the discipline can be adequately addressed.
  • Writing to Learn - Not Just Learning to Write

    Writing to Learn is writing that is closely associated with the learning process as it occurs in class (lecture or discussion) and as it occurs outside of class (reading and assignments). It is the effort to articulate thoughts that move students toward clarity and coherence.

    Advocates of WAC have had success with writing-to-learn exercises like these:

    • Asking students to write their questions about the course on the second day that it meets
    • Quizzing students during the second week of the course on the content and intent of the course syllabus
    • Having students brainstorm on paper what they know or would like to know about a topic before it’s introduced in lecture or discussion
    • Stopping the lecture or discussion to have students write briefly about how they are experiencing it or about a concept presented in it

    Most often, these assignments are not graded, and teachers simply respond to the content and not to the correctness. Such writing reinforces learning and helps students to clarify their ideas. Because it is an exercise in articulating thinking as it develops, it is at the same time an exercise in developing the ability to articulate. How students are thinking, what the class has derived from the assigned materials, and what difficulty students are having with them are discovered. Informal writing-to-learn activities have many benefits for students. Students:

    • write more and get used to it
    • think more about what they are reading or listening to
    • become more reflective and more aware of what they do and do not know
    • do better on formal writing assignments

    The Writing Intensive Course Syllabus

    The Writing Intensive Course Syllabus

    The syllabus for any course is a contract between instructor and student, outlining expectations, procedures, and requirements. Your course syllabus is a first impression. It introduces the student to you as an instructor and will set the tone for the semester. When a course is designated Writing Intensive (WI), the syllabus should reflect the general principles of good writing. Set an early example by using complete citations and complete sentences. Take the time to proofread your own work, and use the citation style of your discipline when listing readings for the courses.

    Conceptualizing Writing-Related Objectives in the WI Proposal and Syllabus

    Before teaching a WI course, here are some useful tips to consider:

    • In crafting your objectives of the course, think carefully about how to structure and include writing in your course. Rather than counting as busy work, the seemingly tedious task of including writing can be accomplished in several ways.

    Writing Intensive Courses

    • Use writing to enhance learning and understanding of course content. Articulate in a specific way how much writing will count for in the syllabus. Students are more likely to take writing seriously if students understand and make the connection between how assignments are structured and the course objectives.

    • Create clear guidelines for how specific components of the course objectives are to be fulfilled each week in each assignment so that students view each assignment as a staircase of building skills that enhance their learning of content both within and beyond the course.

    • By including a rubric for both informal and formal writing assignments students are more likely to view writing assignments as an investment towards learning and fulfilling the course objectives.

    • In turn, having shorter and more informal writing assignments geared towards fulfilling your course objective can highlight the importance of writing in the formulation and articulation of ideas.

    • Writing assignments can also prepare students for externally administered examinations such as the CUNY Proficiency Examination (CPE) and examinations related to the discipline.

    In the example below, the WI information has been structured to reflect the purpose of the course. This example cites the WI requirement and describes what the requirement means for a student taking this course. Psychology 330 is a permanently designated WI course. All sections of the course are always offered as WI. The instructors of these courses use some version of the statement that follows.

    Psychology 330 WI: Foundations of Research in Psychology

    This course is a Writing Intensive (WI) course. All students who entered the College in Fall 2001 or later are required to take three WI courses before graduating. Two courses must be in the lower division of the curriculum (at the 100- or 200- level) and one must be in the upper division (at the 300- level or above) within the major design (as is Psychology 330).

    This designation does not change the structure of this course as it has been taught. Rather, it acknowledges that this course meets the standards of a WI course as specified by CUNY and has therefore earned this designation. The formal writing assignments for the course are described below. Additionally, there will be in-class writing exercises and discussions that are related to these assignments. This work is meant to enhance your understanding of writing as a process and writing for the discipline of Psychology.

    Your syllabus must include information about the way the writing assignments as well as drafts of those assignments will be graded and what portion of the course grade is dedicated to these assignments. Your specific course assignment(s) need not appear on the syllabus, but may be distributed separately.

    Formal Writing and Informal Writing

    A Guide to the Process Approach to Writing

    1. Prewriting exercises of various kinds are used to get students ready for the assignment. Sometimes the first step is short in-class impromptu writing.

    In the WI courses, this impromptu writing can take a variety of forms and might be completed outside of class time. The focus is on prewriting that leads to critical thinking about the assignment before a more formal draft is begun.

    2. An assignment is made in detail, with a written assignment sheet. For example on the assignment sheet, students are told (in writing) that they must, "without fail," arrive in class on the scheduled read-in day with four copies of their paper. The product is deliberately not called a draft; it should be the students’ best attempt at that assignment. Try to avoid the word "draft," which students often take to mean "whatever you can throw together."

    3. Read-ins use about one class hour. Students are put in groups of three, and the teacher explains that the aim is simple: They should hear and discuss one another’s papers. But negative criticism is not allowed – nor is attention to correctness, unless the writer has a specific question and wants help.

    The writer passes a copy of the paper to each of the two  classmates and reads the paper aloud, while the others follow along and make any notes they see fit on their copy of the paper. They may pause to discuss content after each paragraph or discuss only after the whole paper is read.

    The aim is sharing work in progress, not critique. It is always interesting for the instructor to see a set of papers with differing approaches to an assignment, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but diverse in their approachesand insights. Students get ideas from one another; they almost always get positive feedback on their own efforts.

    The time devoted to this exercise can readily be shortened and there are ways, somewhat less attention grabbing, to get a similar effect outside of the class time. Some instructors ask students to form small groups and do the read-in on their own time, while others have student pairs conduct peer review or exchange papers in class, but evaluate them (in writing) outside of class.

    Again, it is important to stress that the process approach it is easily adapted for use across disciplines whenever attention is given to the process involved in progress toward the final paper.

    4. Remind students of the stages of the writing process and help them incorporate attention to each of these as they prepare their work for you:

    • Prewriting
    • Drafting
    • Revising for content
    • Editing for correctness
    • Preparing and proofreading a final copy
      Stress the distinction between editing (a systematic process that examines the paper sentence by sentence andfeature by feature for common errors) and proofreading (a final reading over of the final product). Many students will produce far fewer errors once they know that you expect them to edit their work very carefully and systematically.

    Insist that students prepare their work using word processing and following the standard format citation style in your discipline.

    Developing Writing Intensive Assignments

    If you have used an assignment or series of assignments that require students to submit formal papers that comprise a minimum of 10-12 finished pages, then you have the beginnings of a Writing Intensive (WI) approach to learning.

    Depending on the discipline, the "throw them into the deep end of the pool" assignment goes something like this:

    Write a 12-page library research paper describing the origins of Psychoanalysis (or Impressionism or the Manhattan Project or Montessori schools.)

    Some will argue that this is an effective instructional style, but it is not effective for every student. Some students lack the skills, practice, and/or organizational ability to work completely on their own. Some students come to college without the experiences needed to write as independent scholars. The increasing number of national commissions on writing indicates that this problem is not confined to York College.

    How the process of moving  toward  a well-crafted assignment is accomplished is up to the instructor. In the context of WI courses, the word "draft" is broadly defined, and there are many ways to give students feedback as they work through term assignments. These include:

    • in-class discussions about assignments

    • small-group work among students as they prepare written work, and preliminary or less formal assignments that prepare students for the formal paper(s) required

    There are many courses where a long paper is a necessary part of the curriculum, but there are inventive ways to move students toward the final paper so that they are not rewriting (and you are not rereading) the same 12 or 15 pages of work at a time.

    Example: Consider the type of report used in scientific journals. These reports include an abstract, review of the literature for a topic or research question, description of the methodology, report of the results, and discussion of the results. The phases toward completion of the final report might include submitting a research question, a tentative outline, and then the sections of the paper can be submitted for review according to a prearranged schedule. In the early stages, you can give a check rather than a grade. The check is to acknowledge submission of the project, not to rate the content of the submission.

    In most courses, especially lower-division courses, it is most effective to use shorter assignments. In some cases these can be similar ones where the earlier assignments serve as the "drafts" toward the later ones.

    first review to illustrate where the student needs to improve for the next. Again, you might choose not to give a formal grade for the first submission. You are letting the student know what you expect and what needs to be revised so that subsequent reviews actually address your assignment.

    Structuring Writing Intensive Course Assignments: Four Faculty Approaches

    Professor Conrad Dyer

    Political Science 103: Politics and Government in the United States

    In this course, the instructor elected to meet the requirement for formal writing by having students write six short essays over the course of the semester. Each of the six essays is a response to a unit of inquiry in the course. The instructor asks students to submit a rough draft in advance of the due date, giving students opportunity to revise each of the six essays.

    For each of the course themes, the instructor offers a choice of essay prompts and provides clear guidelines for due dates and secondary sources.

    This course introduces you to American government and politics by exploring six major themes starting with the recently

    concluded process for nominating and confirming Justice Sotomayor. Subsequent themes examine presidential power, the legislative process, interest groups and political parties, civil liberties and rights, and federalism. A major part of your learning experience is the essay (3-4 pages, typed, double-spaced) that you will develop in relation to each topic. Each essay will be evaluated and returned with written feedback that you will incorporate into a final draft. The assignment for each theme is shown below, along with due dates for the first and final drafts. The course is writing intensive because writing is an important key to understanding difficult material; to develop in this case - accurate, evidence-based opinions about a very complicated subject.

    Theme I Sep. 8, 10, 15,

    Choosing a new Justice of the Supreme Court

    (Judicial review, judicial philosophy, judicial activism, advice

    and consent… )

    According to a widely accepted definition, politics is ‘a

    process for making binding decisions for society.’ In other words, politics determines who gets healthcare and who dies; who goes to prison and who to college; which diseases get money for research; whether people have decent housing and quality education; which crimes get punished; whether we build peaceful or hostile relationships with the rest of the world; or, choosing a new Justice for the United States Supreme Court. The nomination and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor gives us a unique opportunity to observe this process of making one of the nation’s most important decisions.

    Essay 1 First draft due: Sep. 10

    Final draft due: Sep. 22

    Give a brief background on Sonia Sotomayor; describe her

    judicial philosophy in comparison with that of Justices Brennan, Rehnquist, and to two of the fictional judges of Scenario 14; How is her view of the judiciary different or similar to that of Madison or Hamilton?

    Discuss the influence of 2 of the following on the final Senate vote: party affiliation, judicial philosophy, public opinion,

    electoral considerations, the Bully Pulpit.

    Think American Government

    , chap. 13 (see also p.51)

    Professor Laura Fishman

    History 206: Women and the Family in World History

    In this course, the instructor divides the formal writing into five

    short "medium-stakes" assignments and a "high-stakes" term assignment. The "medium-stakes" assignments serve a dual purpose, representing both "writing-to-learn" and "learning-to-write" pedagogical goals. The writing prompts appear on the syllabus next to the scheduled course readings and are intended to help students understand and engage with the course content through writing. While the instructor includes thirty-seven of these prompts on the syllabus, students are only required to complete five during the semester. This choice allows the instructor to provide commentary on each of the "medium-stakes" assignments the students submit for the course. The instructor expects her students to use her comments to shape their writing in future writing assignments.

    Taken together, the five "medium-stakes" writing assignments are weighted as 30% of the course grade and the final writing project is weighted as 40% of the final grade. The following is an example

    of the "middle-stakes" writing assignments as they appear in the syllabus.

    Approximately 12-15 pages of formal writing will be assigned. Sixty per cent of these assignments will consist of short essays ("medium-stakes writing) which will be regularly assigned,

    but concentrated throughout the first two-thirds of the semester. Students will receive detailed written feedback on each of these assignments. It is expected that students will incorporate these suggestions in subsequent assignments, and especially as they prepare their term project ("high-stakes" writing), which will constitute forty per cent of the formal writing assignments. All writing assignments are designed so that students may develop their writing ability, their knowledge of the course content, and most importantly the various higher order thinking skills that are listed as the objectives of the course.

    Professor Xiadan Zhang

    Sociology 201: Sociological Analysis

    In this course, the instructor turns to a traditional interpretation of formal writing by asking students to prepare an 8-10-page research paper due near the end of the semester. One might reasonably assume that here, as in other courses, the instructor makes this pedagogical choice because completing an extended research writing assignment is an essential activity in her academic discipline. However, it is important to the instructor that students also come to understand that writing a research paper is a complex, multi-processed task. This instructor utilizes a "scaffolding" strategy to guide students through the writing of this longer assignment.

    I. Introduction Week 1

    What is the difference between sex and gender?

    Why women’s history?

    Women’s history as social history

    Role of outstanding/exceptional women

    What does feminism mean?

    Is a feminist movement still necessary today? What

    problems have been solved, and what

    issues need to be addressed?

    Reading and Writing Assignments:

    1. Simone de Beauvoir, Creating Women, Vol. II, 234-237

    Why does the author maintain that women have been

    defined as "the Other"?

    According to the author, what obstacles did women face

    in early twentieth-century society?

    Why might many women accept their status as "the


    that lead up to the final longer research paper. Students are asked to submit a description of their topic for approval, and then a paper outline and interview questions. Two weeks before the due date, students also submit a rough draft of the paper and are expected to use the professor’s feedback to revise the draft. Thus, even though students create a longer product, the scaffolded assignment structure facilitates a dialogic relationship between student writers and the professor that progresses throughout the semester.

    Professor Sharon Faust

    Occupational Therapy 509: Psychosocial Intervention I

    This upper-division course is part of a professional program in which it is essential for students to master the conventions of the

    case study, a genre of writing specific to their professional field.

    Research Paper

    You will conduct an ethnographic research project for this paper. Choose a research topic in which you are interested. Use one of the sociological approaches we learn in the class (e.g. structural or cultural approach; or use the concept "social

    institution") to analyze the first hand data you obtain through interviews.

    Length: 8-10 pages. You should first submit one paragraph that briefly discusses your chosen topic. After your topic is

    approved you need to submit a paper outline and interview questions. Students are also required to hand in their first drafts two weeks before the due date and revise them based on the professor’s comments and suggestions. These five steps (one paragraph of ideas, paper outline, interview questions, first draft and final version) should be recorded in your e-portfolio.



    The purpose of this case study is to compare observations and information gained in your clinical experience with the classical components of the patient you have chosen. After selecting a patient using the resources available to you, write a case study including the information listed below. Please use headings listed below. Use professional terminology and use references on all researched information which is not your own original thinking.


    • Do not pick a difficult case - select a typical case after

    consulting with your supervisor.

    • Use a case in which you can get required information

    and data from records, charts, clinicians, etc. Avoid

    • Select a client you can interview, observe, or for whom

    you can interview significant others.

    • Objectives of this case study:

    1. Note signs and symptoms of a diagnosis

    2. Note how individuals with mental illness are assessed

    3. Note how treatment plans are developed

    4. Compare/contrast actual case with a typical textbook





    Identifying Data – Personal/Environmental Contexts. (included but not limited to)

    A. Age - Sex

    B. Marital Status

    C. Ethnic Background

    D. Date of admission - previous admissions (briefly stated)

    E. Precipitating factors leading to admission (symptoms, stres-

    Writing Intensive Courses 22

    sors, etc.)

    F. Daily activities

    G. Diagnosis (Multiaxial evaluation)

    Historical Data (social, vocational, educational Hx.)

    A. Developmental history (milestones) –examples

    B. Social history (family, acquaintances, groups - cultural,

    religious,professional, leisure, community, etc.

    C. Past illnesses (those related to present illness, Hx. Of

    psychological/physical problems (include D/C plans


    D. Educational history

    E. Employment history

    F. Other

    II. Impact:

    A. Discuss course of disorder specific to your patient

    B. lmpact of psychiatric/physical disorder through life

    C. Impact of physical condition(s) as appropriate through life

    IllA. Assessment - Clinic

    A. What assessment tools were used?

    B. What areas were evaluated – what data was collected?

    C. Interpretation of data (impact on occupation)

    Outline all of the above clearly for Other Disciplines.

    (If no other disciplines contribute to the Data Base – indicate)

    IIIB. Assessment - OT

    A. What assessment tools were used?

    B. What areas were evaluated – what data was collected?

    C. Interpretation of data (impact on occupation)

    Outline all of the above clearly for Other Disciplines.

    (If no other disciplines contribute to the Data Base – indicate)

    IV. Treatment Plan - Interdisciplinary (excluding Occupa

    tional Therapy)

    A. Identify problems/Strengths

    B. Goals

    strategy to help students prepare the final assignment. However, instead of asking students to submit outlines and a draft, the instructor scaffolds the case study by requiring students to complete a weekly "log" assignment. Each week, students prepare a log entry; each log entry corresponds to a different section of the case study. Students have the opportunity to share their logs in class and to receive feedback from the instructor. Thus, the preparation of the case study at the conclusion of the semester really consists of revising and assembling log entries.

    C. Treatment methods/approaches

    D. Specific discharge options

    V. Intervention Plan - Occupational Therapy

    A. Identify problem

    B. Goals

    C. Intervention/approaches/methods/types(use OTPF


    D. Outcome(s) Discharge plan (use OTPF terminology)

    VI. Intervention plan - Student

    For the client you have selected develop your own

    treatment plan including:

    A. Your F.O.R. and rationale

    B. Profile interview (include Interest Checklist COPM)

    include forms

    Adapted from Louisiana State University’s Case Study


    Writing Intensive Courses 24

    Low- and High-Stakes Writing

    Student writing assignments may be characterized as low-stakes and high-stakes – inexact but useful distinctions that suggest a range of writing activities for differing instructional purposes. Although most advice in this Handbook focuses on high-stakes writing that is the special charge of the Writing Intensive (WI) instructor, the WI courses – like all courses – can and should make use of low-stakes and middle-stakes writing in the service of instruction.

    Low-Stakes Writing

    Low-stakes writing promotes classroom learning. It is typically

    informal, briefly reviewed or non-graded, and often focuses on the student’s thought processes as he/she learns new content. This kind of writing includes free writes, letters, think pieces, personal responses, notebooks, reading logs, journals, and diaries. finished product). These exercises in interactive learning are called "low-stakes" because grades are not greatly affected by them.

    Low-stakes writing helps instructors find out what students do

    understand, and, more importantly, when they are confused. It reveals the students’ thought processes as they attempt to organize concepts. This feedback enables the instructor to intervene helpfully and promptly. York College • City University of New York 25 Handbook for Writing in General Education.

    High-Stakes Writing

    High-stakes writing, formal writing is required in all Writing Intensive (WI) courses and is the kind of writing most familiar to teachers and students alike, the classic formal paper often based on reading or research. These assignments are called "high-stakes" because grades are tied to them.

    The goal of high-stakes writing is to measure students’ progress or

    learning or mastery of a subject and also their ability to write effectively about that subject.

    High-stakes writing should be the result or end product of a writing process with several stages. The paper may be one to which the instructor has responded in the draft stage or the paper may evolve from a series of low- or middle-stakes writing assignments, including outlines, notes, project proposals, and drafts.

    Examples of low-stakes response writing include 5 minutes of writing at the beginning of class to help students bring to mind the previous lecture, homework reading, or lab work; 5 minutes in mid class when an important question arises; or

    5 minutes at the end of class to reflect upon what has been discussed/learned/misunderstood: what were key ideas for them. Such exercises will help students absorb and integrate the course material. Writing Intensive Courses 26

    Responding to Student Writing

    Responding to students’ writing is the part of WAC that often worries instructors because it is here that incorporating more writing into their courses seems most like an imposition, demanding more time from the instructor. But, in fact, responding to students’ writing may not require as much time as you might think.

    Responding to Student Writing

    Responding to students’ writing is the part of WAC that often worries instructors because it is here that incorporating more writing into their courses seems most like an imposition, demanding more time from the instructor. But, in fact, responding to students’ writing may not require as much time as you might think.

    Managing the Paper Load and Minimal Marking

    • Use feedback sheets and in-class editing or peer review sessions.
    • Introduce a grading rubric to simplify and reduce time spent poring laboriously over papers.
    • Limit comments to 3 or 4 on writing assignments.
    • Hold students responsible for correction of their mechanical errors through evaluative checklists. Concerns about proper grammar usage can be addressed through the Writing Center or through low-stakes in-class writing that focuses on the specific ‘pet peeves’ of the instructor.
    • Incorporate a lower-order concerns sheet (see the WAC office for a copy) for students and a checkmark system to give students hands-on experience. This may reduce the stress normally associated with grammatical errors, since it becomes a collective and collaborative exercise
    • Return work submitted with an inordinate amount of errors to the student and have him or her check the entire document using the checkmark system, or refer the student to the Writing Center.

    Reflecting Level of Formality

    However, different levels of formality in the types of writing students are asked to do require different levels of formality in response. Responses should reflect the formality of the assignment and the time students put into that assignment.

    A low-stakes assignment such as a quick-write at the end of a class period could be sufficiently responded to by a public acknowledgement at the beginning of the next class meeting. One example could be, “Most of you grasped the concept of __________, but for those of you who did not, reviewing chapter __________ should be a priority.” Brief writing does not need to be marked or graded, and can be anonymous. 

    A high-stakes assignment should receive two kinds of response: (1) to the student’s ideas, and, (2) to the quality of the student’s writing, considering both rhetorical concerns (focus, structure, development) and language concerns (correctness). 

    For high-stakes writing of formal papers, students expect and should be given a grade. The general criteria used for grading the CUNY Proficiency Examination (CPE) provide guidelines that may be useful for evaluating high-stakes writing: 

    Focus: Is the paper focused coherently on the assignment? Is there a clear sense of structure?

    Ideas: Does what the student says show understanding of the material?

    Support: Is the paper sufficiently developed, with explanations and examples to support the ideas? If research is used, are there references and documentation? 

    Language: Does the paper communicate clearly and effectively, using appropriate conventions of language (e.g., word choice, grammar, punctuation, and spelling)?


    Plagiarism is a problem that is clearly not limited to academia. Although the Internet has had an impact on the frequency of the offense, plagiarism is not new. All of us have our outrageous stories about plagiarism. There have always been and will always be occasional students who plagiarize assignments. 

    York College has a strong policy about plagiarism. Once you are sure that the work is not the student’s own, you must decide the course of action you will take in response, meet with the student to discuss the offense, and report the incident in accordance with the policies of your Department. 

    The WI instructor’s goal must be prevention, not just enforcement. There are many reasons why students plagiarize. These explanations do not excuse, but understanding motivations may help us to prevent students from feeling the need to plagiarize.

    There are many transfer students who were never taught how to cite correctly, and those who have taken English 125 forget under pressure. Too many students assume that writing a paper is simply a matter of stringing together bits and pieces that they read. They do not know or forget that the words and ideas being used must be credited to the author.

    Some students know that they must cite sources, but do not understand the way to do this properly or what passages require a citation. Students think that they only need to provide a source if a precise quotation is used. They do not realize that using someone else’s idea also needs a reference. When students are told “put it into your own words,” they think that this means changing a word or two. They do not yet understand that this task implies critically thinking about what was read and explaining it from their point of view. York College • City University of New York 29 

    You must let students know what constitutes plagiarism, that it is a serious offense (potentially leading to dismissal from College), and what you will do in response. You need to formulate your own way of dealing with the College policy. A good start is including a warning about plagiarism on the course syllabus. 

    There is no way to avoid plagiarism completely, but you can diminish the probability of receiving plagiarized work by paying closer attention to the way you develop assignments, by adhering to the process approach for completing writing assignments, and by informing students that plagiarism is an egregious act.

    The following excerpt is from a handout used by Professor Meredeth Turshen in her courses at Rutgers University. This course handout explains what plagiarism is, why it is to be avoided, and then uses a real world instance to show how “easy” it is to plagiarize even among professional writers. (This example is most definitely being used with her permission- feel free to copy it for your classes!)

    To plagiarize is to take ideas, writings, etc. from another (including websites!) and pass them off as one’s own. The way to avoid the charge of plagiarism is to cite the source. You cannot paraphrase someone else and pretend that it is not a direct quote and doesn’t need a citation. It does. Use any standard form of citation but always include the author, date, title of book or article and journal, and page number. The purpose of the system of citations is to enable any other scholar to look up your references and decide whether you have correctly interpreted the text. Because plagiarism is an offense for which students can be expelled from the university, it is important to understand exactly what constitutes this type of academic dishonesty. 

    Given below, side by side, are the original and plagiarized versions of a text. The original passages are from Laurence Bergreen’s biography of James Agee, and the plagiarism was committed by John Hersey in The New Yorker magazine. Hersey failed to acknowledge his source.

    The plum assignment gave After rather bumpty exper-

    Agee a chance to demonstrate iences with articles on but-

    the range of journalistic skills ter, cockfights, and quinine,

    he had painstakingly acquired Agee was offered a plum; a

    in the course of churning out piece on one of Franklin D.

    journeyman stories on topics Roosevelt’s more successful

    as diverse as butter, cock-fights, undertakings, the Tennessee

    and quinine. Valley Authority.

    Alma and Agee left Broolyn Summer came, and so that

    and all its dreary associations Jim could resume work on 

    for the twenty-five-dollar-a- the book, he and Alma ren-

    month farm they had rented ted a decrepit stone house,

    the previous winter. Located in Stockton, New Jersey, for

    in Stockton, New Jersey, twenty-five dollars a month--

    Monk’s Farm consisted of an quarters somewhat, but not 

    old stone house and plenty of much above sharecropper’s

    open country, but little else. To standards. There was no 

    friends from New York in bathroom. “All God’s out-

    search of a bathroom, Agee ex- doors,” Agee told his visitors,

    claimed, “Why, all of God’s “is a toilet!” He read his 

    outdoors is a toilet!” . . . At drafts aloud to a series of 

    the time Agee had visited the guests, to great praise. But 

    sharecroppers, three years ear- the mood of the nation had 

    lier, the Depression had been been inexorably shifting, like

    public issue number one, but a contintental plate; his topic

    it had since been supplanted by no longer earthshaking. Rad-

    ominous developments abroad ios echoed with distant shou- 

    . . . Hitler made threatening ts of “Heil Hitler!” Further-

    gestures against his neighbors. more, in May, John Stein-

    Radios on both sides of the At- beck’s enormously success-

    lantic reverberated with shouts ful book “The Grapes of

    of “Seig Heil!” As a vital issue Wrath” had preempted read-

    the Depression dated . . . Anoth- ers’ pity for the dispossessed.

    writer, John Steinbeck, had come

    along . . . 

    Writing Support at York

    WAC Writing Fellows

    The CUNY Writing Fellows (WFs) are an indispensable element in the effort to build a University-wide WAC program. Writing Fellows are assigned to each campus, where they spend two-year terms assisting in the implementation and expansion of WAC efforts. Advanced graduate students in a wide range of disciplines, the WFs are trained in a CUNY WF Institute before coming to the College, and once here, meet in weekly seminars with the WAC Coordinators to further develop their skills as WAC consultants. Often the Writing Fellows have been adjunct faculty members and they are almost always prospective college instructors.

    The WFs are the emissaries of the WAC program, working with faculty members on an individual basis to design effective writing activities appropriate to the instructor’s discipline and approach. In General Education courses, the WFs’ responsibility is to work with faculty members on an ad hoc basis, offering services as needed. In Writing Intensive (WI) courses, a WF is generally assigned to work with a faculty partner throughout the semester. Fellows might attend classes, meet with professors to develop exercises and materials, offer support to students working on high-stakes assignments, or become an additional resource in the classroom by offering a mini-lecture or workshop on writing within the context of the course. 

    WFs have also worked with the Director of York’s Writing Center to develop the Center’s program, and to deliver orientation sessions for students who are taking the CPE. They assist with WAC evaluation and analysis and in the development of proposals, reports, assessment, and materials for students. WFs participate in all WAC Steering Committee activities and CUNY-wide conferences and institutes. 

    The WFs are well prepared to assist faculty members who are interested in learning more about WAC approaches and how they can adopt these in their courses and programs. A listing of some recent WF activities provides an example of the scope of the Fellows’ services: 

    • Working with individual faculty members one-on-one

    • Helping run the WAC Faculty Seminar for faculty members 

    preparing to teach WI courses

    • Helping run specialized workshops

    • Offering orientation sessions for students planning to take 

    the CPE and LAST

    • Participating in department meetings 

    • Providing time, where appropriate, to work one-on-one 

    with students

    If you’re interested in consulting with a WF, or just want to learn more, contact Professor Jonathan Hall, the Writing Fellows Coordinator.

    The Writing Center

    York’s Writing Center is also a key component of ongoing WAC activities. Located in AC-1C18, the Center is open five to six days (depending on demand) a week. It provides support for students in all aspects of the writing process: generating ideas, doing research, drafting, revising, documenting sources, and using the conventions of written English. Its goal is to assist students in their development as writers, not to guarantee a specific outcome on a course assignment. Tutors provide support for writers as the writers develop and express their ideas. They do not proofread and edit student papers. 

    To help the Center support your students most effectively, all teachers of Writing Intensive (WI) courses are asked to do two things:

    At the beginning of the semester, distribute copies of the Student Information flier to your students and urge them to make use of the Center. You’ll be supplied with multiple copies at the beginning of the semester; call the Writing Center at 718-262-2494 if you need more.

    Refer students in difficulty to the Writing Center, for weekly tutoring. Since every WI course requires 10 to 12 pages of formal writing submitted in cycles of feedback and revision, it is imperative that foundational writing problems are addressed early in the semester. In this way, students can be given the opportunity for growth. 

    Beginning Fall 2003, instructors will receive a report from the Writing Center each time a student visits the Center for assistance. 

    Appendix 1: Low-Stakes Assignment Ideas

    Low-Stakes Assignment Idea #1

    Writing at the end of class on the lecture/discussion

    Activity: During the last five minutes of the class period, ask students to use an index card or a piece of notebook paper to respond to a prompt like 

    Explain to me what . . . (key concept from that day’s class) means.

    or Tell me why . . . (key concept from that day’s class) is important to (larger topic).

    Collect the responses as the students leave the class. Feedback is provided at the next class session. This can be done by acknowlWriting Intensive Courses 34 

    edging the usefulness of the exercise and mentioning a few issues that the instructor learned needed clarification.

    Benefits for instructor: 

    The instructor receives immediate feedback to check the students’ comprehension of course material.

    This feedback comes in a form that does not need to be graded, marked, or even returned.

    Benefits for students:

    Students get the chance to articulate their understanding of the topic, which aids in their processing of the material.

    Students get used to writing regularly about the subject.


    This activity can be done outside of class and given to the instructor at the beginning of the next class period. In this case, be sure to set a length limit (perhaps three or four sentences).

    Low Stakes Assignment Idea #2

    Homework reading logs

    Activity: As an ongoing homework assignment, each week ask students to write (or word-process) a one-page summary of that week’s reading for the course. The level of instructor response depends upon whether this is being done as a low- or middle-stakes assignment and whether or not completion of the assignment counts toward a percentage of the final grade for the course.

    Benefits for instructor: 

    The instructor receives feedback to check the students’ comprehension of course material.

    The class periods are more productive because this activity strongly encourages students to stay on top of their reading assignments.York College • City University of New York 35 

    Benefits for students:

    Students get the chance to articulate their understanding of the reading, which aids in their processing of the material.

    Students get used to writing regularly about the subject.


    Instructors can specify or limit the scope of the summary they want the students to write. For example, the summary could be of one or two specific readings or certain difficult pages within a reading. Or, a specific question can be given. A series of such assignments could affect an outline of topics for a high-stakes essay.

    Instructors do not have to collect and read these one-page summaries every week. Some weeks they may want to mark that the students completed the assignment and other weeks they may want the students to exchange papers and compare their understanding of the course material with their fellow classmates. Or, they may want to read them and write one or two brief remarks.

    Appendix 2: WAC and General Education

    General Education is general because it involves study of a wide range of subjects, and because it is education for a general audience. It is general in another sense because, despite the variety implicit in the subject and the diversity of the learners, it requires certain skills that are common to all subject matters and learners. In the past, these skills were referred to as “liberal arts,” giving general education its other name, “liberal education.”

    In the Middle Ages, the trivium or the arts of words, were valued as the arts of interpretation of meaning (grammar), of invention or creative writing and speaking (rhetoric), and of coherent, systematic argument (logic). These liberal arts of reading, writing, oral expression, and logical thought, which include quantitative thinking, are part of the modern curriculum as well because every course involves thinking and communication. 

    Curriculum (WAC) is a national movement to focus the attention of higher education faculty and students on these arts common to all their subjects. 

    The need for such a movement arises, in part, from increasing specialization in the graduate studies and research of the faculty. Typically there has been insufficient concern with general education goals that are distinct from those of the specialized fields of inquiry. Because these goals are skills of thought and expression common to all subject matters, they are essential to success in liberal education. It is not too much to say that they are the means for the liberation of the mind. The term “spiral curriculum” is used in WAC to provide a verbal picture of how general education courses, the major courses, and elective courses move together in an intertwined fashion to contribute to a liberally educated person. 

    For many contemporary students, television has replaced reading, the telephone and e-mail have either eliminated or diminished everyday writing, and an inconsistent educational system has failed to cultivate analytical thought. The increasing requirements of externally administered examinations, support the faculty judgment that many students need to cultivate the skills of reading, writing, and thinking.

    Using writing-to-learn activities and focusing on the writing process makes writing a valuable tool for the acquisition of knowledge and critical thinking about a course’s subject matter. Students write in an effort to figure out what the reading or the lecture has said, and not merely to record ideas that they have already mastered (or, too frequently, struggle to write as if they have mastered them). If pursued diligently by the faculty, the WAC requirements at York College will not only have students reading and writing more, they will foster closer connection between reading and writing and the process of learning the course content and mastering its materials.

    Appendix 3: Annotated Bibliography for Writing Intensive Courses

    All of the resources listed here are available on campus. Please contact the WAC Program Director, the Coordinator of the Writing in the Disciplines project, or a York College Writing Fellow if interested in obtaining one or more.

    Anson, Chris M. and Lance E. Wilcox. (1992). A Field Guide to 

    Writing. New York: HarperCollins.

    A relatively short guide to writing in non-composition courses. This would make a good supplementary resource text for students in any Writing Intensive (WI) course.

    Bean, John C. (1996). Engaging Ideas: The Busy Professor’s 

    Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active 

    Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

    Bean has become the quintessential reference for those seeking to learn about WAC. He combines research and educational philosophy with concrete applications while anticipating questions and problems.

    Elbow, Peter. (1997). “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning 

    and Responding to Writing.” In New Directions for Teach- 

    ing and Learning, no. 69 (Spring) 1997, 5-13.

    A good introduction to various types of writing especially low stakes writing and its usefulness for high stakes writing and other curricular goals.

    Fulwiler, Toby. (1987). Teaching with Writing. Portsmouth, New 

    Hampshire: Boynton/Cook, Heinemann.

    An introduction to the use of writing in the classroom from which innumerable handouts have been adapted. Discusses various types of writing.

    Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook, 6th Edition. (2002). New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press.

    An indispensable reference tool for writers at all levels. This guide is an assigned text in English 125 and like the Anson/Wilcox book above, this would make a good supplementary resource text for students in any WI course. 

    Howard, R.M. and S. Jamieson, Editors. (1995). The Bedford 

    Guide to Teaching Writing in the Disciplines. New York: 

    St. Martin’s Press.

    A fine resource with a very strong chapter on “Preparing the 


    Walvoord, Barbara E. (1986). Helping Students Write Well: A 

    Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines, 2nd Edition. New 

    York: Modern Language Association. 

    This resource covers a wide array of WAC topics. It is straightforward, reader friendly, and free from ideological fervor.

    Young, Art. Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum, 3rd Edition. 

    (1999). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 

    Young writes that this book can “serve as a guide to teachers who have been assigned or who volunteered to teach a required ‘writing intensive’ course in their discipline as well as to faculty who themselves decide to include student writing, whether frequently or occasionally, in their courses.” 


    The WAC program at York College would like to acknowledge the entire York College faculty who have participated in WAC seminars and those who have agreed to share their classroom assignments with us for this handbook. We would also like to acknowledge, in alphabetical order, the following individuals for their past and current support of the program and efforts in creating this and previous versions of the Handbook: Donna Chirico, Michael Cripps, Conrad Dyer, Sharon Faust, Elyane Feldstein, Cynthia Haller, Carolyn Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth Meddeb, Howard Ruttenberg, Michael Southwell, Debra Swoboda, and Margaret Vendryes.

    This guide is a revised version of the Fall 2007 handbook, Writing in General Education: A Handbook for Faculty. It was revised in the Fall of 2009 by CUNY Writing Fellows Maria Biskup, Angela Ridinger-Dotterman, and Naaborle Sackeyfio. Additional sample assignments were contributed by Professors Conrad Dyer, Sharon Faust, Laura Fishman, and Xiadan Zhang