Writing across the curriculum

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CTE consults with instructors, departments, support units, and faculties on designing writing and communication assignments and responding to students’ communication assignments.

For help with writing and communication instruction at any level and in any discipline, contact Kristin Brown, CTE’s Educational Developer, TA Training and Writing Support.

We also encourage you to contact the Writing and Communication Centre to integrate support into your classes.

How to design and respond to writing and communication assignments

Students learn best when their assignments have clear instructions, involve an iterative process, and ask them to make meaning of ideas rather than simply report it (Anderson et al., 2015).

These CTE Teaching Tips provide guidance for designing and responding to writing and communication assignments:

Why we need to teach writing and communication across campus

While students learn to write academically in high school, they don’t learn how to write in specific fields of study. It’s therefore essential that instructors in any course give students opportunities to learn the language, conventions, and genres of their disciplines.

Asking students to write often in disciplinary courses also enables students to develop their communication skills more generally, helping them achieve the undergraduate degree-level expectation (UDLE) of Communication Skills.

Waterloo’s Undergraduate Communication Outcomes initiative is an essential step in integrating writing and communication instruction across our campus.

The benefits of writing and communication assignments

Research shows that the relationship between how much writing students do in a course and their level of engagement in that course is stronger than the relationship between engagement any other course element (Light, 2001), making writing-intensive courses in any field of study a high-impact practice.

At the same time, short and simple writing-to-learn exercises in classes of any size, level, or discipline can promote deep learning and engagement (Bean, 2011).


Articles, books, and videos to learn more about teaching writing and communication:

  • Anderson, P., Anson, C. M., Gonyea, R. M., & Paine, C. (2015). The contributions of writing to learning and development: Results from a large-scale multi-institutional study. Research in the Teaching of English, 50 (2), 199-235. (Link to article)
  • Bean, J. C. (2001). Engaging ideas: the professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
  • Beyond the Red Ink: a video on how students react to our written comments on their assignments
  • Why it seems like your students can’t write: a CTE blog post
  • Writing Across Borders: a three-part video on multilingual undergraduate students’ experiences with writing assignments in the States

Websites and journals with examples and ideas for designing and responding to writing and communication assignments:

  • The WAC Clearinghouse: your go-to resource for books, journals, and resources on writing and communication across the curriculum
  • Prompt Journal: a refereed online journal publishing academic writing assignments from all academic disciplines
  • Quick Guides on designing and responding to writing and communication assignments from the Writing Across the Curriculum program at the University of Alberta
  • Sample assignments and activities from the Writing Across the Curriculum program at the University of Wisconsin­–Madison
  • Writeonline.ca: online modules to guide your students as they write lab reports, case studies, literature reviews, and reflections