I divided students into groups of 2-3 and asked them to outline an essay stemming from the primary sources we had read that week. (Ideally, I wanted to give them about 30 minutes to do this, and then use their theses as a springboard to discuss the sources, but I ran out of time, and they only had 20 minutes and there was no time to come back into a large group. Most were able to generate a basic outline in 20 minutes, but I said unfinished was okay).

I had warned them to bring laptops and have the sources available, so each group was able to email me their outline at the end of class. I was then able to give feedback on the quality of their thesis and on the organization of the paper the very next class. So I hope it was a useful, low-stress way to think about how to write essays better. I certainly felt that I had been able to offer valuable guidance without a large or painful investment of my time.

I used MS Word comments to give the feedback, so I was able to print a separate copy for each member of the group. I felt very professional and efficient.

I’m thinking I’ll start trying to do this once or twice before the first essay is due, in the future.