English, Department of


Date of this Version

May 2004


Published in Teaching Ideas for University English: What Really Works, ed. Patricia M. Gantt and Lynn Langer Meeks (Norwood, Mass.: Christopher Gordon, 2004), pp. 271-283. Used by permission.


Recently compositionists have focused on how writing functions both rhe­torically and culturally in the public sphere. Amy Lee (2000), for ex­ample, frames her booklength discussion of college composition in an understanding that “writing serves as the means by which we actively construct a self and a world that are, in turn, determined by the very language we have access to” (pp. 45-46; see also Berlin, 1996; Ervin, 1999; Wells, 1996). Such a view places pressure on writing teachers to develop generative activities that extend students’ existing capacities to summarize and analyze arguments. One activity that we’ve found useful is glossing. In this chapter, we focus on glossing as a means of helping students to engage more critically with the texts they read as well as the texts they write. In doing so, we are not claiming to have discov­ered glossing. Rather we share our adaptation of a strategy that previously has been extolled by compositionists such as Ann Berthoff (1982) and Donald Murray (2000). More specifically, we describe several different glossing activities through which, in our experience, students have discovered the power of this kind of critical engagement with writing.

Essentially, glossing focuses attention on a piece of writing in a way that supports students’ discovery and articulation of the logic and assumptions un­derpinning the organization of a text. Glossing asks students to work through a single paragraph or section of text at a time, noting not only what that paragraph or section says but also how it functions within the larger piece of writing. Al­though we use this activity in nearly all of our courses, adapting it to our specific pedagogical goals within various courses, as well as our students’ goals for read­ing and writing, in this chapter we focus on our use of glossing within an ad­vanced composition course at our institution.