Teaching Developmental Writing through Real-World Evaluation- 2012 Workshop

Presenter: Karen Nix

A Profile of the Typical Developmental Writing Student

The typical developmental writing student is a complex creature.  He usually doesn’t see how developing his writing skills will help him reach his immediate life goals, and because of this he doesn’t really care to exert much effort in his writing course.  Also, he usually feels a great amount of anxiety when given a writing assignment.  This anxiety is generally caused by negative previous experiences with writing and a lack of fundamental skills needed to deal with the writing assignment.  He feels insecure and apathetic.

What instructional methods seem to work?

Writing assignments that can be linked to his daily life and personal interests are the least threatening and most engaging for the developmental writing student.  He also must be given a plan and some basic tools, so he can alleviate his anxiety and insecurity, and then “deal” with the assignment.  This plan and basic tools must be repeatedly given to him until he can conjure the plan and tools on his own when given a writing assignment. Once he is able to do this, he can successfully deal with a writing assignment on his own.  This should be the goal of developmental writing courses. 

Product Evaluation Essay Overview

The Product Evaluation Essay appeals to the developmental student because it disguises research and analysis as an activity he likely enjoys: online shopping.  During the process of writing this essay, the student will select an important item that he plans on purchasing within the next year, such as a new vehicle, tablet pc, chrome rims, smart phone, backpack, running shoes, etc… The item doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, just important to the student.  After the student decides on his important item, he will generate a list of important features for his item, which you will refer to as criteria.  The student will then research his field of options on the internet until he narrows his options down to two.  He will then evaluate each option using his list of criteria.  His essay will then show the resulting evaluation through comparing and contrast the two options, and in his conclusion he will reveal which option best suits his needs.

Why does this essay appeal to the developmental student?

The developmental student enjoys this essay because it is relevant to his life.  He actually plans on purchasing this item, so the evaluation process seems useful to him.  Also he is very interested in the item, so researching it on the internet is fun.  Because he is interested in the subject and the assignment seems useful to his life, he is more likely to stay engaged and exert more effort into the composition of the essay.

Additionally, the structure of the pre-writing materials and the essay itself is very formulaic, which works well when introducing research and evaluation to developmental students.  Having a formula makes the student feel safe and comfortable when encountering a new mode of writing.  So this essay assignment both engages the interests of the developmental student while alleviating his anxiety, which, in turn, allows him to write at his best.


Product Evaluation Essay

Instructional Materials

Product Evaluation Essay Assignment Sheet

Product Evaluation Essay Brainstorming Activity

Product Evaluation Essay: Product Research Worksheet

Product Evaluation Essay: Example Outline

Product Evaluation Essay: Instructor’s Example Essay

Product Evaluation Essay: Example Student Essay

Product Evaluation Essay: Peer-Review Activity

Product Evaluation Essay: Grading Rubric

Ways to Alter the Assignment

To give the developmental student a more in-depth experience with research writing, have him provide in-text citations and a works cited list for his products’ websites.  Another way to alter the assignment would be to incorporate field research into the evaluation.  So instead of solely depending on the internet for product information and reviews, the student would have to physically seek out his options in stores to gather first-hand experience.  However, conducting field research may be challenging for students living in a rural area because of limited shopping resources. 

Potential Problems 

Because this may be the developmental student’s first experience with research, plagiarism must be addressed during the beginning of the unit to prevent any bad habits from developing during the drafting process.  If not well informed about the negative consequences of plagiarism, the developmental student will be tempted to cut and paste information from his products’ websites. 


Individual Activity: Product Evaluation “Test-Drive”


Activity Overview

Before you decide how the Product Evaluation Essay might fit into your curriculum, let’s “test-drive” the assignment so you can get a better feel for it.  Using our remaining time, we will work through the pre-writing and product research portions of the Product Evaluation Essay assignment in order to further explore the assignment.

Activity Instructions

You can use the “Brainstorming Activity” worksheet and the “Product Research” worksheet found in the previous pages to guide you through this activity, or you may want to just use scratch paper to jot down your ideas for this assignment.

  1. Think of an important purchase you plan on making in the near future.
  2. Make a list of important features for the item to have to best suit your needs.
  3. Browse the internet to determine your field of options.
  4. Narrow your field of options down to your two favorite.
  5. Compare and contrast your options using your list of important features or criteria.
  6. Based on your evaluation, decide which option would best suit your needs.