Writing in Non-writing Courses

Are you looking for ways to help your students better process theoretical, abstract, or quantitative material? Or for ways to help them recognize and articulate the broader relevance and applicability of what they’ve learned in your class? Incorporating frequent and varied writing exercises is an effective teaching strategy across the disciplines, even in undergraduate courses where students don’t usually do a lot of writing…

This workshop was offered in Fall 2016 as an in-person workshop at the Graduate Center, CUNY. The workshop and materials were developed by Anke Geertsma and Avra Spector.


Please join the Teaching and Learning Center on Wednesday 10/26 from 1-3pm for a workshop on Writing in Non-Writing Courses. In this workshop we will pay particular attention to the challenges and opportunities of integrating writing assignments into STEM and social science courses, but those teaching courses in the humanities will get much from the workshop as well.

We’ll briefly explore Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) pedagogy and its core tenet that writing to learn is as important as learning to write. We’ll discuss low-, middle-, and high-stakes writing assignments, identify moments in your courses when you can incorporate purposeful writing, and share strategies for how to respond to and grade student writing in an efficient and productive way. And we’ll showcase some creative writing assignments from chemistry, mathematics, biology, and computer science courses from across CUNY.

Please bring a draft of a writing assignment for a course in which you would like to do do more writing with your students (this can be a very rough draft!). The TLC will be happy to work with you to craft an effective writing prompt for your class that helps student engage more productively with course material.


All materials on this page and in the linked google folder are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) 4.0 International Public License.

This folder contains outreach materials, workshop plans and resources.

Materials Folder: Writing in Non-writing Courses Workshop

Workshop Plan

1:00-1:15 Introductions and brief intro to topic

1:15-1:30 Activity 1 (STEM Visual Writing Prompts)

1:30-2:00 Discussion on role / benefits of writing

2:00-2:15 Showcase few examples

2:15-2:40 Activity II: in pairs determine goals and design assignment

2:40-2:50 Share results / ideas

2:50-3:00 Survey

I Introductions 

  • what they teach and how they
  • would like to incorporate writing in their classes (where, to what end)
  • go over where/what people teach and why/where they think they want to incorporate writing assignments

II Activity I

  • model what you can do using a visual writing prompt from this site
  • Introduce the concept of a low-stakes writing assignment as a way to get students to start thinking (writing to learn vs. learning to write)
  • shows that such an assignment can get students to think about the broader real-life implications and connections of what they learn in class

III Discussion on role and benefits/challenges of writing

  • Introduce some main WAC concepts (low- middle and high stakes writing assignments)
  • writing can get the juices flowing (writing to learn),
  • an effective building block in a sequencing of a larger assignment
  • courses covering abstract material, writing can function as a way to make (theoretical, scientific) material concrete and relevant to students’ lives and the world outside the classroom.

IV Showcase Examples from CUNY

V-VI Design activity 

Pair up participants to think about where in their course they would like to include a writing assignment, what their learning goals would be, and how they would design it. After this we can share ideas and designs.

VII Wrap up and survey