Welcome to Teach Write! This column draws on my 20 years’ experience teaching writing to kids, university students, and adult learners. It includes ideas and exercises that teachers can use in the classroom, and creative writers can use to level up their process.
Listen up, students, because this edition of Teach Write is all for you: today, we continue our exploration of audience with a critical one: teachers.
When teachers give us writing assignments, they are trying to measure two things:
- whether or not we understand the material we are writing about*
- whether or not we’ve mastered the form and format we’re writing in.
The first point is about having our facts straight – it’s our chance to prove that we’ve understood what the teacher was talking about all those weeks in class, or perhaps the material that we dug up during our research. Needless to say, if you’re not sure you understand your subject matter, you’re going to want to sort that out BEFORE you start writing!**
The second part is about demonstrating that we understand what a research paper, argumentative essay, lab report, or general interest piece is supposed to look like, and that we are able to work within the conventions of that form. It’s also about recognizing that, in addition to our teachers, every writing assignments has a second, hidden audience that we have to take into account.
In my fourth year of university, one of my professors told us to write a magazine article that explained a genetic disease to a general audience. Sounds simple enough, except for the fact that I hadn’t read a magazine since my childhood subscription to Highlights for Children had expired. I had NO idea what the form, style, and tone of a magazine article was like, and it didn’t actually occur to me to go read some magazines before starting to write.
Needless to say, I did not do so well on that assignment.
So, before you start your assignment, make sure that you know your material, but also that you know what the end product is supposed to look like and who it’s supposed to be written for. If you can’t tell from the instructions, make sure to ASK.***
Bonus tip for teachers: Give students samples of the format you’re looking for. Some of us work best from examples (on unrelated topics, natch!).
Comments? Questions? I welcome discussion from both teachers AND students!
*assuming that our assignment is not poetry or some other type of writing that’s purely creative, in which case, it’s all about the form
**ASK someone, preferably your teacher or librarian (or TA in the case of college or university). Never hesitate to seek help when you’re confused, because we are ALL confused at some point.
Hey, did you know I teach writing workshops? It’s true – I work with adult writers, teachers, and students of all ages. Contact me to learn more.