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Writing to Learn

Chris Quigley
Posted by Chris Quigley
December 13, 2022

Writing to learn is a pedagogical approach in which students process and synthesise curriculum content through writing activities. The activities are often short and low-stakes, focusing on understanding the subject content and summarising it in coherent sentences. The low-stakes nature of the tasks allows students to focus on curriculum content rather than a grade or score for their writing.

A study at North Carolina State University (1) found a link between writing and learning: writing creates a synthesis that aids understanding and retention. Further research (2,3) helps explain the connection: we remember what we think, and processing information helps us think. When students write, they think on paper, and as they do so, they transform nascent ideas into complete thoughts. The processing involved in this aids retention of content.

Writing is also a helpful device to aid students’ metacognition – one of the most critical factors in developing independence in learning (4) – because it helps them know what they know and identify gaps. A substantial body of research (5) shows that retrieving previously encountered material – even that met earlier in a lesson – benefits securing knowledge in long-term memory. In short, writing about curriculum content helps students learn the content; our on-demand course Writing to Learn explores this approach and gives many practical examples.



  1. Carter, Michael & Ferzli, Miriam & Wiebe, Eric. (2007). Writing to Learn by Learning to Write in the Disciplines. Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 21. 278-302. 10.1177/1050651907300466. 
  2. Brown, PC, & Roediger, HLiii & McDaniel, MA (2014) ‘Make It Stick, The Science of Successful Learning’ Cambridge, MA The Belknap Press
  3. Kirschner. Paul A, Hendrick, Carl (2200) ’How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice’, Routledge
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