Often simply getting started is the most difficult part of a writing task—and the loneliest. Collaborative brainstorming and initial drafting can leverage the power of social energy, providing each group member with an initial, rough draft from which individual students can then proceed to shape and shift in their own direction. This is particularly helpful in creative contexts and for teaching genre characteristics. Moreover, this strategy impels students to dwell in the drafting stage, forestalling the rush to premature completion and encouraging the possibilities at work in deep revision. Students are able to experience the malleability of early drafts and see how revision uncovers multiple development possibilities.   

Step-by-Step Implementation

Before the collaborative drafting session(s), students should be introduced to the learning goals or concepts, as a class, by reading and discussing examples/texts together.   

  1. Students are organized into small groups (3-4 students). In their groups, students draft a character study, poem or similar short work. If needed, students can research images as starting points, using a creative commons photo-sharing site.   
  2. Each group appoints a member to read aloud their co-authored poem to the entire class. The nature of the work as a product of collaboration, and thus not tied to any one student, helps minimize anxiety. Listeners are asked to write brief observations and suggestions, which are collected and given to the group, who share them among each member via a Google doc or other method.  
  3. Students then individually work on the piece. This can be either during the rest of the class period or as homework, implementing the suggestions from the class (as each student on their own sees fit). The collaborative draft now shifts from being a shared product, to raw material for each student’s own independent work. Each student now has material they helped create, but each is also responsible for deciding how and to what extent to use that material, free to determine what matters—which elements to use and which to ignore, thus supporting the individual student’s emerging aesthetic.  
  4. At the next class, students share the revised work in their groups. They are usually very interested in seeing what their peers have done with the common “raw material” and struck by the differences. 
  5. Each group then chooses one member’s revised work and, together, they rewrite it in a different genre (or revise in some other relevant way). If it was a poem, they rework it as a prose scene. If it was a prose sketch, they rewrite it as a poem. The goal is a fundamental reconception of the work, along with a recursive movement from “mine,” to “ours,” allowing the work to return to common property. This reflexive shifting early in the writing process helps develop a revision mindset, since it discourages students from seeing any one piece of work as “finished” too early in the writing process.   
  6. As homework, each student once again takes the group rewrite and extends it further on their own. They will change it up, add to it, or rewrite it in yet another form or genre (instructors can impose requirements specific to the course). The goal is for students to once again use the group collaboration as a springboard for their own personal creative impulse. 


Students generally enjoy collaborating in small groups, although the movement from group product to individual material and back again is uncomfortable at first. It is important to explain why they are being asked to view their drafts this way--that what is being produced is in flux, is meant to be deeply revised and so not to get attached to it. Once they get the hang of it, students enjoy building upon elements of the collaboration and using them in their own way. In particular, seeing how others in their group take the original collaboration and do something very different with it really opens up for them the possibilities in deep-tissue revision.  


Although my example is with creative writing, this could be adapted for composition, speech, fine arts and other disciplines—any area where students need to develop drafting and revising skills.