No matter what kind of work people do, they must be able to put abstract ideas into concrete form.
Making an idea concrete means explaining something in terms of sensory information or human actions so that every person in the audience gets the same idea.
Educators like ourselves are not excluded from that requirement, nor are our students.
Too often we leave to English teachers the task of teaching students to communicate concretely. Unfortunately, English teachers often have no clue what concepts students in chemistry, psychology, or health care need to communicate, let alone what those concepts mean.
Rather than leave the communications job to the English department, we should make sure our students can define concretely the concepts we use in our disciplines.
Formal writing prompts are an ideal way to force students to define concepts concretely.
In history, you might have students define era.
In business, you might have students define compound interest.
In chemistry, you might have students define covalent bond.
In English class, you might have students define comma.
In a physical education or health care class, you might have students define compound fracture.
Responses must go beyond a regurgitated textbook definition. Students must explain their term so that people who aren't in your class with them understand how the term applies to or is similar to some aspect of their own experiences.
Students would need to write as much as is necessary to explain their concept adequately. That might be three paragraphs or three pages.
The simple formal writing prompts template in the highlight box can be reused repeatedly throughout your courses to force students to grapple with the fundamental concepts they must understand.