Skull Penetration, Gravity, and Clothing: Applying Peter Elbow’s Writing Model to Writing Groups

I’ve become enamored with Peter Elbow’s book Writing Without Teachers. If you’re curious about it, check out my previous posts here and here.

The writing approach described in Writing Without Teachers eschews skill based instruction. In its place, Elbow details a system that harnesses the power of students-as-readers. One of my favorite sections of the book is about the use of writing groups to “cook” writing. WWT requires students to respond to writing, not evaluate or judge or critique. It’s all about learning how our words affect others, and then shifting our writing accordingly.

Elbow explains how students’ responses to writing should fit into four categories: pointing (how you felt during specific parts), summarizing (what’s it all about?), telling (how you reacted during the entirety of the piece), and showing (using metaphors). Both author and listener have prescribed roles.

I created the following graphic organizer to help my students learn a few key points of the process.


While the author reads their piece aloud (2x), the listeners make note of:
-any words or phrases that ‘penetrate their skull’
-what they believe to be the center of gravity (the main idea)
-what type of clothing the piece resembles

Then, they report this information back to the silent author who copies it down on the reverse side. The goal here is to get them responding from a place of affect, creativity, and connection. This is just the first step on our journey towards revelatory writing groups. The organizer certainly isn’t perfect; I identified changes within the first few minutes of observing students.

I’m excited to watch and learn and read and write. I know I’ve only begun to unlock the ideas contained inside this book!

Writing Group Organizer



  1. Pingback: Shape this Writing into Clay: A Graphic Organizer for Writing Groups | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes
  2. Pingback: If I Stuck a Camera into your Brain, what would I see? Responding to Literature | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes
  3. Pingback: Try Writing with Your Students | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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