What Reading Instructors Ought to Know about Writing:

Using fool-proof formulas and models to teach the whole writing process, connect writing to reading, and evaluate student writing

Rick Dollieslager, Thomas Nelson Community College, Hampton, Virginia

July, 2014

rick dollieslager


As part of a nationwide movement toward integrating reading and writing in college English courses, Virginia, Texas, Arkansas and few other states are leading the way. While this may make both reading and writing instructors a bit nervous, there is a lot we can learn from each other and teach to each other about our subjects using tried-and-true, back-to-basics techniques. Here are a few, a starter kit of techniques for teaching writing to developing college students which can be taught fairly easily by the instructors and learned very successfully by the students.

Writing is a process that begins with pre-writing strategies (such as reading a text to respond to, or brain-storming ideas to write about), planning, composing the draft, revising it and then editing the finished product. The steps aren't necessarily linear, but sometimes are cyclical. This f-2-f seminar models the stages of the writing process with student essay samples based on a readings from our English Study Skills text book, On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life, 7th Ed., by Skip Downing, Cengage Learning, Boston, 2013. This web page links to all of the handouts and on-line resources for recreating this set of lessons in developing an essay that integrates readings into the writing process.

"Similarities in the Reading and Writing Processes"

I. Doing it by the Numbers: The Power Writing formula for creating paragraphs, developed from J. E. Sparks’ Write for Power (1987), a quick lesson in developing simple paragraphs using the Power Writing method.

II. Power Writing paragraphs from readings. Students connect reading and writing by using Power Writing starter templates to develop paragraphs from passages in their course texts. These templates provide the start of two separate paragraphs which quote and informally cite their text book and link the definitions to their own experience by showing examples of when they have recently exhibited the defined behaviors. Once the Power Writing patterns are established the instructions are simpler to give and to follow, as the prompt below for another paragraph illustrates (copied from the class assignments web page).

Here is an example of how we might start the Power Write paragraph on the Wise Choices process:

  1. [Power 1] Dr. Downing says that people can create desired outcomes in their lives by following the six-step Wise Choices Process, as I intend to do regarding my problem ______________(time management, for example)_________________________.
  2. [Power 2] The first question in Downing's Wise Choices process is "What is your present situation?"
  3. [Power 3] My present situation is that I don't seem to have enough time to do my school work.
  4. [Power 3] My family also wants more of my time, and it's important to me to spend quality family time.

III. From Power Paragraphs to Essays. Revising topically linked paragraphs into the body of a five-paragraph theme, another old standby in the academic writer's tool box, using Bertrand Russell's classic five-paragraph essay "What I have Lived For" as a model. Learning Activity: Piecing together the 18 sentences of "What I Have Lived For" to generate discussion of the importance of thesis statements, topic sentences, transitions, introductions and conclusions, and style cues. (Cut the 18 sentences and the title from this page and put them in envelopes. Make enough copies to give to the entire class in groups of three.)

IV. A formula for evaluating the written products: How to use The College Board's SAT 6-point scale rubric for evaluating essays holistically or grading them numerically: It’s easy!

Power Writing and Writing Instruction Resources

Column Notes” A Power Method for taking notes in a structured way using the Power Writing organization strategies. (Developed by Reading Quest.org: Making Sense in Social Studies)

eThemes” (hosted at University of Missouri). Links to several Power Writing help/idea sites. 

Graphic Organizer for Power Writing” (sponsored by Franklin Community Schools, Franklin, Indiana)

How to Write a Five Paragraph Essay with Power Writing” (published on Bright Hub, commercial education and technology providers, web site)  Models the Power Writing structure for outlining and composing a five-paragraph theme.

Power Thinking” Outline models for planning Power Writing paragraph and essay topics or to apply the “Power” approach for critical reading. (Developed by Reading Quest.org: Making Sense in Social Studies)

Power Writing” An overview of the method, for teachers and students. (Published by The Writing Site.org)

"Power Writing in Math" Writing math journal entries describing how to solve problems using Power Writing


"The Myth of Multitasking" takes students through the entire research process, from previewing published articles, to note taking for sumarizing, to composing and documenting the researched essay.

"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" A Critical Reading, Editing and Writing Lesson

Resources for Teaching Writing (and a whole ton of other stuff) compiled for the VCCS Regional Centers for Teaching Excellence