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Using Writing as a Teaching/Learning Strategy in Tutoring

Often we think of writing as an activity focusing on developing ideas to be communicated to a specific audience and—at least in school—to be evaluated or graded based on various issues related to both idea development and presentation. However, tutors and tutees can use writing strictly to promote thinking. When audience and presentation issues are removed, writing can be:

  • Brief, focused very specifically
  • Used only for idea development
  • Unconcerned with punctuation, mechanics, and other matters of presentation
  • Ungraded, often even unread by the tutor
  • Graphic, using diagrams, tables, charts, and other visuals

Being quiet for a few minutes (both tutee and tutor) and writing has several advantages:

  • It allows/promotes in-depth, prolonged thinking and reflection.
  • It encourages thoroughness, depth, and accountability.
  • It encourages/allows for everyone’s participation.
  • It allows both tutor and tutee to check understanding.
  • It helps the tutor avoid dominating the session.
  • It helps students in a group learn from each other.
  • It promotes self-help.
  • It aids discussion.

Ask tutees to write in preparation for, during, and after their classes and tutoring sessions. Here are some examples and ideas: Have tutees …

  • write on the topic of the day for 2-3 minutes before the tutoring session begins.
  • rewrite difficult problems in an effort to help them understand and solve.
  • predict and write test questions.
  • draw concepts and process.
  • create timelines.
  • translate difficult reading passages or concepts into their own words.
  • write a fictional interview with someone they are studying—or a fictional dialogue between two figures.
  • write a brief summary of difficult lectures or tutoring sessions immediately afterwards.
  • log their own activities as a precursor to thinking about study behaviors they might need to change.
  • list, arrange, prioritize new and difficult vocabulary items.
  • outline or create a flow chart or concept map of relationships among difficult concepts.
  • synthesize chapter details into a bigger picture or summary.
  • justify or provide rationale for one perspective of a multi-sided issue.
  • create a table, graph or chart to illustrate and summarize collections of data or other information.

Think about your tutees and their needs in relation to what you tutor: What kinds of brief, informal writing activities would help them and your tutoring sessions? Try out your ideas.

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