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Show Students Examples of Good Writing

As you can tell from our discussion of pre-writing exercises, showing your class a few examples of the sort of work you’re expecting from them is really useful. Sometimes seeing writing that works—a paragraph that features good use of textual evidence; an interesting, well-formulated thesis; a conclusion that goes beyond summarization; a concise abstract—produces an epiphany for a student writer. “Oh, so that’s what you mean by explaining the quotation!”

Keep in mind the following as you bring student and professional texts to your students’ attention:

  • Use positive rather than negative examples of real student writing because it’s a better pedagogical strategy—students find it more helpful to analyze high-quality writing as they strive towards better writing themselves.
  • Choose real student writing instead of fabricated examples. You can supplement examples of good student writing—check with your faculty instructor, other TAs, or your department for archived copies of such work—with work from your own class.
  • Get permission from your students at the beginning of the quarter to use their exemplary work anonymously to help their fellow writers. They’re usually flattered.

To select writing from your own class, ask your students to email you work the night before your section or to submit work to your box before class meets. Keep the writing samples short, and you’ll have time to select and photocopy (or put on overhead) one or two examples to cover.

When the examples are in front of the class, ask why the featured model is “good,” and then expand on their responses. Why, for example, is this paragraph persuasive? How is it well structured? You could ask your class where the writer could refine the work further, given that writing can always be improved. Ideally, students would then turn to their own work, even briefly, to think about how they could make their own writing better.


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