Nancy Sommers

Helping writers develop good habits

Blog Post created by Nancy Sommers Expert on Aug 29, 2017

Hello, dear Colleagues: I send all good wishes to you and your students for the new academic year. I’m often asked these two questions at the start of the semester: What are the best ways to introduce a Hacker/Sommers handbook? and What activities might help students develop the habit of using a handbook?


We know that most students enter a writing classes uncertain about what a handbook is and how and why it will help them succeed as college writers. Yet we also know that the more students rely on their handbook, the more effective they will become as writers, especially when they’re writing their papers at 2 a.m. and need a trusted source to answer their questions about using sources and meeting the expectations of college writing.

On the first day of class I tell my students this: Everything you need to become a successful college writer in any course is in your handbook. Buy it, become friends with it. I’ve learned, though, that this statement is a well-intentioned abstraction unless I require students to bring their handbook to each class and give them specific reasons to open it—questions to answer or problems to solve—and show them how the book is designed for them. I want students to start asking questions about their writing and to learn how to find the answers in their handbook. One of my oft repeated queries in class is—Where in your handbook will you find the answer to that question?

I designed the following activities to introduce A Writer's Reference and activities to introduce Rules for Writers to help students become more confident using their handbook. These activities—scavenger hunts, open-book quizzes, and more—promote collaboration among students as they learn to navigate their handbook. Enjoy using these activities with your students. Let me know how it goes.

With all good wishes,
Nancy Sommers