Focus on writing course

Between 2009 and 2012 Thinking Writing  worked with local East London schools to develop and teach a course to A-level students around features of academic writing and literacy. In consultation with teachers we identified areas where students typically had problems with their writing – developing their arguments, writing with the appropriate tone, style and level of formality, editing their work for concision and clarity, among others – and developed activities that would help students identify if and where these problems were in their own work, and how they might address them. The course, taught over anything from a 3-10 week period, was based on these materials which were used in conjunction with students own writing from their school course work; students had a chance to identify and discuss one of the issues in a sample piece of writing, complete a brief task responding to the issue, and to then spend time analysing and rewriting their own work. Examples of the activities covered, (click one each to download the activity and guidelines for use) are unpacking a question, writing convincingly, considering tone and style, and editing to eliminate redundant information and focus on the text.  

A particular feature of the course was the contribution of QMUL student writing mentors, a group of mostly undergraduate students who had been trained by Thinking Writing in various approaches to giving feedback and guidance on writing. The mentors worked with us throughout the course, helping to structure the activities and giving advice about writing; they also offered students the chance to ask questions about university life and talked candidly about academic study in each of their particular subjects.

We are no longer using the course approach and have switched to other ways of working with schools, sometimes using the materials we developed, but with an emphasis on working directly with teachers – read more about this on our professional development around the secondary curriculum and thinkingwriting space pages.

The materials we developed have been reused and developed, particularly in two London Mayor’s Excellence projects (2014-15); a cross-Tower Hamlets KS4 project and the Fetch me a Pen project coordinated by Mulberry School also in Tower Hamlets.   

We have written about our experiences with the Focus on Writing course in the following chapter:

Peake, K. and Mitchell, S. (2015). 'A cautionary tale about a writing course in schools.' in  Lillis, T. M., Lea, M. Harrington, K. and Mitchell, S. (eds) Working with Academic Literacies: Case studies towards transformative practice. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. Available at

Documents you can download from this page: