1. Introduction

Since you’ll be teaching a FYWR course, we begin with the official guidelines for first-year writing courses, required by the College of LSA and administered by the Sweetland Center for Writing.


To achieve this mastery, First-Year Writing Requirement courses assign writing tasks designed to help students:

  • produce complex, analytic, well-supported arguments that matter in academic contexts;
  • read, summarize, analyze, and synthesize complex texts purposefully in order to generate and support writing;
  • demonstrate an awareness of the strategies that writers use in different rhetorical situations;
  • develop flexible strategies for organizing, revising, editing, and proofreading writing of varying lengths to improve development of ideas and appropriateness of expression;
  • collaborate with peers and the instructor to define revision strategies for particular pieces of writing, to set goals for improving writing, and to devise effective plans for achieving those goals.

Considering Your Audience

While Michigan students on the whole may be well prepared for the challenge of college-level academic writing, it is important to consider that the features of college writing often differ from those of high school writing. Keith Hjortshoj in Transition to College Writing draws out two different definitions for good writing, which instructors and students may hold to varying degrees:

1. All good writers and all good writing should follow some basic principles. For example, All good writing should have a thesis, clearly stated in the introduction. Following paragraphs should each present a point that supports this thesis, and the essay should end with a logical conclusion. Writing throughout the essay should be clear, concise, and correct.

2. Features of good writing vary from one situation to another. These variations depend, for example, on the subject of the writing, its purpose, and the reader’s expectations. The form of writing used in a field of study often structures those expectations. As a consequence, the features of good writing in a literature course will differ greatly from the features of good writing in business or astronomy, and what seems clear to one audience might not be clear to another.

Hjortshoj emphasizes that neither is wrong but that the first is more restrictive. For our purposes, it’s fair to say that good writing can incorporate the features of the first definition (much like the five-paragraph essay common in high school writing); however, leading students to produce “sophisticated academic writing” is in many ways the process of leading them to incorporate the features of the second. This has several important implications as you prepare to teach your FYWR course. It will be necessary to:

  1. Find out which models your students assume and currently work from.
  2. Spend time defining what you mean by “sophisticated academic writing.”
  3. Think of college-level writing not as intuitive (and therefore more accessible to “talented” students) but as consisting of features that all students can learn.
  4. Be prepared to develop strategies to lead all students, regardless of their starting point, towards complexity and sophistication.

Underlying several of these points is the notion of equitable teaching, that all students should be given access to and be able to take part in the course equally. This underlying philosophy emphasizes your role as a facilitator of student learning. Positioning yourself this way helps avoid “deficit’ thinking which unfairly shifts the burden to students as “underprepared.”


Just as the features of college writing often differ from those of high school writing, the college classroom often differs in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways from the high school classroom, and the first-year writing class can be an important space in which to develop the “studenting” skills that students will employ throughout their college careers. Making this transition can be a challenge for all students, regardless of their level of confidence or prior success; indeed, a student who mastered the discursive space of the high school classroom might have particular difficulty adapting their behavior to the college classroom environment, which is often less rigorously structured and less transparent about expectations.

There are many ways to instill effective strategies for communicating with classmates and instructors:

  1. Show students how the rhetorical skills that students are learning to apply in their writing–in particular, a sensitivity to audience and purpose–can be employed in their interactions with classmates and instructors. In both class discussions and office hours, model for students how to determine their audience and how they can meet the expectations of this audience.
  2. In particular, emphasize the distinction between circumstances where instructors are implicitly telling students, “show me what you know” (expecting the repetition of concepts learned) and circumstances where instructors are implicitly telling students, “surprise me” (expecting the presentation of creative and original insights).
  3. Create opportunities for inquiry into course policies and their rationales, and destigmatize ignorance of both course content and procedures. For example, when introducing an assignment or explaining a concept, rather than ask, “Do you have any questions?” assume that there will be questions and instead ask, “What questions do you have?”

Again, the philosophy underlying these strategies emphasizes your role as a facilitator of student learning.

How to Use These Materials

Though these materials represent sound practices, it will be important to think through them in the context of your unique teaching situation and adjust them, introduce them, or sequence them accordingly.

You will find each module addresses a different aspect of teaching first-year writing. The modules contain summaries, links to resources and essays, sample strategies, exercises, and significant quotes to help you think about the topic. They have been organized primarily around the writing process itself: from the beginning stages of writing to final drafts. The last module addresses academic integrity and plagiarism, and while you don’t want to overburden your students with this topic, you will want to address such issues throughout the course in a deliberate and meaningful way, rather than wait until there is a “problem.” Also, depending on the topic, this website includes tips on effectively integrating Canvas into your writing classroom.

For some of you, the material will be mostly new; for others who have taught writing before, you will be familiar with key concepts. While it doesn’t hurt to refamiliarize yourself broadly with the topics addressed in each module, you may want to spend more time with a particular module or topic. The website also includes a Resources section, which will be especially useful if you want to dig more deeply into a topic. (For instructors in the Honors Program: Please spend about ten hours reading through the modules and embedded readings and responding to the Forum question prior to your participation in the training session.)

Some of these materials may be most useful to you during the semester. Our hope is that you refer back to the website whenever necessary, as you engage students in the process of first-year writing. Along with support provided by your home department and, if applicable, your course instructor of record, you are also welcome to visit Sweetland if you have questions or desire further information about these materials or other teaching matters.