by Nynke Passi


August Macke

First appoint a group leader who keeps time and who has access to these guidelines during the workshop. The group leader is in charge making sure everyone sticks to the rules, that everyone gets equal time, that everyone listens and is respectful of the work of others, etc. If any member of the group only has very short pieces, this person can workshop several short pieces instead of one longer one. If a member of the group has a piece longer than 10 pages, he/she can workshop the entire piece with the consent of the group OR workshop a selection of the essay and fill the audience in re. the rest. All of this should be decided in a democratic way within the group under the direction of the group leader.

The group leader reminds the author not to talk during rounds 2 and 3 (see below)! Please stick by this rule! You will learn a lot more, because you want to know how your audience interprets your essay, not tell your audience how they should interpret your essay.


The author reads his/her essay (up to 10 pages maximally first round; if it is less than 5, the group member can workshop 2x). Take advantage of the opportunity and don’t read something that is barely a page long. Do remember that there may be less time to discuss a piece that takes much more time to read out loud.

Before continuing with rounds 2-3, each student takes at least 5-7 minutes to write up notes in the margins of a copy of the author’s essay (if a copy is available) or on a loose sheet of paper if no copy is available. You can take more time and keep scribbling as you discuss. If you have a copy, it may help to put numbers in the margins of the essay to indicate certain passages that you either loved or that you did not understand; that way, you can more easily refer to the exact passages you are talking as you are writing up notes. If you don’t remember a specific sequence or passage during discussion, you can ask the author to re-read a passage as an example as you make your point.


Positive feedback: Everyone in the group will share things that work well in the essay and that are particularly successful, moving, interesting, effective. Be specific! Refer to questions at the end of this workshop description for specific ideas.


Room for improvement: Everyone in the group will share questions, confusions, and point out what maybe needs more work or more editing, so the essay as a whole will be stronger. Again, be specific, and be positive! In this round, it is very important to not demoralize but to instead encourage and inspire the author so he/she will be excited to revise.


ONLY in the last round is the author allowed to talk and ask questions!


Maurice Prendergast

* Voice of the author: Is it unique, consistent, personal?
* Flow of the essay
* Organization of the essay: Do all parts fit with and add to the whole?
* Balance: Is there enough information, too much information, too little information?
* Is the message consistent, if there is a message?
* Is there a clear theme?
* If it is a story, is the story well told? Does the plot build to a climax?
* Character development: Are all characters painted clearly so you get a feel for them? Do you know their motivations, something of their appearance, age range, mannerism and behavior? Is there too little or too much information on a character? Does a character seem inconsistent, and if so, why?
* Setting: Is setting described in sensory detail? Do you get a feel for location, background, atmosphere, weather, time of year, time of day?
* Sensory perceptions: Are all of your senses engaged in reading the essay?
* Point of view: Are interesting point of view choices made in the essay? Is the point of view consistent, or is there any confusion?
* Beginnings and endings: Is there a strong beginning and a strong ending? Do the two relate and connect? Do they work together? Does the opening make you want to read more and does the ending leave you satisfied?
* Dialogue: Is some dialogue or some speech used to enliven the essay?
* Is some of the essay told in scenes? If so, is this handled well? Do you have setting and character development in each scene? If there are no scenes, does that feel like a lack, or does the essay work well without?
* Abstraction: Are all abstractions made concrete or anchored in detail in some way? This can be done through use of personification, metaphoric language, or through illustration/story.
* Is there a clear relationship between abstract thought and illustration/story or concrete detail, or do the two seem poorly integrated?
* Is metaphoric/figurative language used effectively? Are there moments when a strong metaphor would help bring out a detail that is significant? If so, where?
* If research is included, how is it integrated with the rest of the essay? Does it add or detract? Does there need to be more or less of it?
* Is the essay emotionally effective? Does it change you as a reader? Do you feel that the author goes through a transformation?
* Do you feel the author’s passion in this essay? Does the author invest something essential of him or herself in this piece? Or does the author hide in certain places? If so, where, how?
* Is the essay intellectually stimulating? Does it make you think?
* Is there any humor, wit, irony used in this essay? If so, is it handled effectively? Do you need more, or less? Any observations?
* Language: Does the essay use interesting diction and vocabulary? Are the sentences beautifully and clearly written or is there confusion?
* Grammar: Are there chronic grammatical issues? If so, what are they? How do they get in the way?
* Spelling: How is the overall spelling handled in this essay?