Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC): Why It Works

What is Writing Across the Curriculum?

The object of writing across the curriculum (WAC) is to introduce writing activities and assignments while teaching other subjects, even those subjects as diverse as geometry, art, and biology. Rather than simply having students discuss concepts orally or take tests with fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice answers, teachers who support writing across the curriculum will assign pieces of writing to be done as in-class assignments, homework, and assessment. There are two main types of writing across the curriculum – writing to learn (WTL) and writing in the disciplines (WID).

What are the Curriculum Goals?

There are several concepts that proponents of the writing across the curriculum approach use as support for their views:

  • Writing encourages advanced thinking skills.
  • Writing regularly allows students to practice their craft, which encourages them to become better writers.
  • Focusing on writing across the curriculum allows students to use various skills at once.
  • Writing enables teachers to more accurately assess students’ understanding of material and ability to think critically.

These concepts form the basis for implementing writing across the curriculum, as teachers who use both WTL and WAD believe that it encourages students to think on a deeper level, improve their writing, incorporate various skills, and display their knowledge more clearly.

Writing to Learn (WTL)

When some people think of writing across the curriculum, they may think that it puts too much pressure on students to focus on grammar and spelling while they should be focusing on the subject matter at hand. Proponents of writing to learn (WTL) say that the subject matter can still be the focus, with writing simply acting as a vehicle to help students understand the material more deeply. For example, journal writing activities in history class, lab notebooks in science class, or writing prompts in math class are all great ways to use the WTL form of writing across the curriculum.

Writing in the Disciplines (WID)

This type of writing enables students to demonstrate their knowledge of a subject. When teachers assign research papers or essays, they are employing WID. For example, a history teacher who assigns an essay on the causes of the American Revolution is encouraging students to summarize what they have learned and to communicate it in a coherent manner. A science teacher who assigns a research paper that requires students to research a disease and its treatment can see whether students are able to synthesize material from various sources and present it in the correct form.

Supporters of WID often point out that various academic subjects require different types of writing conventions and forms, and that WID helps students identify and use them correctly. For example, the passive voice may be eschewed in an English paper, as would APA style. In a Science or Psychology paper, however, both would be acceptable. Therefore, writing across the disciplines enables students to learn more about the field of study, including what is considered acceptable for writing in that field.

Some teachers use only one of these two approaches, and some use both. Whether you’re using WTL or WID, writing across the curriculum can be a helpful way to incorporate writing into every subject you teach.