Teaching Business Writing with Pinterest: Activities for Improving Student Learning

Earlier, I blogged about using Pinterest to curate content in my business writing classroom. Specifically, I described the ways that Pinterest’s interface and features help me store, catalog, and display workplace writing documents as well as news stories about them. The board I created for my upcoming business writing course can be seen below.

Pinterest isn’t only useful for document curation in the classroom, though.

Through actively engaging with Pinterest, students can learn more about workplace communication practices while cultivating important writing and curation skills.

I’ve only begun to explore the ways Pinterest might improve student learning in the writing classroom (and the business writing classroom, in particular). At this early stage, then, I would like to share a few key points:

1. Pinterest keenly illustrates the consequences of bad writing in the web 2.0 era.

The term “workplace writing” is somewhat of a misnomer because these documents often migrate outside the workplace (e.g., from an organization to its patrons or a company to its customers). What’s more, there usually is little assurance that such materials won’t reach an even wider audience. Even internal documents can be leaked or, alternatively, they can be posted publicly with the consent of the organization. Poor communication practices, therefore, can be on a stage for all to see. For example, my business writing Pinterest board showcases a spectacularly bad memo by Microsoft’s Stephen Elop. He posted it to a company blog that is viewable on the open web. In fact, nearly every pin I created for the board derives from a public, online source–and one that usually is published on a company’s website. What’s more, my pin of the Elop memo is public, as are many pins on Pinterest. What kind of discussion might this pin generate among Pinterest users? What might Pinterest users then tweet or share on Facebook?

Indeed, social media further amplifies the speed and distance at which communication mistakes are broadcast. Pinterest may not signal boost a communication faux pas as swiftly or as widely as other social media channels like Twitter or Facebook. Still, Pinterest is a robust curation tool, and accordingly, it preserves poor workplace writing in a unique, powerful way. For instance, when a pin is published, Pinterest displays who else has created that pin and on what board he or she has pinned it. I was both surprised and not surprised to learn that someone else independently had pinned the story about Elop’s memo.


This screenshot of the Elop pin from my board shows that this story already was circulating on the site; other users pinned this material at least a year earlier.

2. Creating pins also can strengthen writing and document design skills.

Users must make informed choices about the best version of the material to pin (the Elop memo as reported by media outlet A or outlet B?), the best image to complement with the pin, the best way to contextualize the pin, and the best way to format or display such information. The most rhetorically sound approaches to these issues are themselves determined by the pinner’s purpose and understanding of his or her audience.

Students in my business writing class, then, need not only react passively to boards I’ve created. At this point in my work with Pinterest, I could envision including one of two kinds of Pinterest-aided assignments in my upcoming business writing class.

Sample Assignments: Composing with Pinterest to Improve Business Writing Skills

Pinterest_FaviconIn the beginning of the semester, I might ask students to curate writing samples and related news stories from one or two companies for which they might consider working. This assignment would allow students to see the broad range of genres associated with the concept of “business writing.” It also would encourage them to begin viewing writing as integral to their career success.

Towards the end of the semester, I might ask students to select a larger rhetorical issue that we have discussed in class, such as tone, gendered language, or document design. They would then find sample documents and news stories that, when viewed together, illuminate something interesting about an issue in business writing. Students would likely also complete some sort of reflective writing (e.g., a memo) in conjunction with creating their board.

Have you used Pinterest in the classroom? Share your experiences below in the comments.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Workplace Writing

Teaching Business Writing with Pinterest: Curating Content

Earlier this week, I blogged about my new faculty position with Radford University. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged regularly, and even longer since I’ve used Pinterest. (Case in point: My daughter is over a year old. When I logged onto Pinterest, my bio still indicated that I’m a “soon-to-be, first-time mom.”)

After being inspired by the ways some teacher-scholars use Pinterest in their classrooms (see, for instance, Ashley Patriarca), I thought I’d follow suit in my business writing class.

For some time now, I’ve taught “workplace writing genres” in a variety of courses. Memos, emails, letters, and performance reviews as well as instructions, reports, and proposals all fall under the umbrella of workplace writing. I’ve amassed many real-world sample documents that I use in classroom discussion, informal activities, and sometimes even major assignments. For someone who works and teaches in a discipline where information organization is essential, I’m ashamed to admit that my system for cataloging the samples is unsophisticated. I have samples saved across several computers, email accounts, web and mobile applications (Pocket is a favorite), and cloud services (Dropbox is a life-saver).

As I was planning my upcoming business writing class and culling through the sample texts I’ve stashed away, I created a Pinterest board to display the more notable workplace documents I’ve collected. 

I discuss below why Pinterest represents a good choice for document curation, which at once involves storing, cataloging, and “showcasing.”

Next week, I’ll discuss how, in the course of building my business writing Pinterest board, I created potential activities and assignments that ask students to use Pinterest to hone their own business writing and curation skills.

Why might writing instructors use Pinterest for curating samples?

Pinterest’s features make the platform a good choice for storing and displaying sample documents to aid the teaching of writing. As a business writing instructor, I need to find, store, and share sample documents, such as memos, blog posts, and emails; just as importantly, though, I also want to preserve news stories that have been written about these primary source materials. (For example, Microsoft’s Stephen Elop recently made headlines for a spectacularly clueless memo that was sent to employees who were being let go.) Pinterest’s “bulletin board”-style interface allows me to arrange a host of materials, from images, to web text, to primary source documents, in an attractive, accessible format. Each “pin” or tile represents one item or piece of material. A pin always includes an image, and it also can include text; as you see below, I like to include some context for each pin. Ultimately, the visual nature of pins seems to positively influence the cognitive process: It’s easier for me to look at a pin (as opposed to an email subject line or file name) and recall what document the pin represents–and why it’s important in the context of the class.


In addition to Pinterest’s bulletin-board style interface, the site also has other features that position it as a good choice for writing teachers who want to curate samples. Specifically, Pinterest has a browser plugin that facilitates pinning materials from the web. Users who install the plugin can surf the web and pin to boards without having to be “in” the board directly. (You must be logged into your Pinterest account, however.)

Pinterest serves my needs as an instructor, but I also think that using the site to curate content, particularly writing samples, benefits students. Pinterest’s mobile and web-based platforms allow students to access content easily and from a variety of settings. Moreover, Pinterest is a social-sharing site. So, students may have some familiarity with–and indeed, expertise in–Pinterest that would only augment their use of the site to engage in course materials.

Of course, Pinterest  need not only be used for content management; it can facilitate active learning. In an upcoming post, I describe how business writing students might benefit from composing with Pinterest. I then outline two potential assignments that ask students to use Pinterest in the service of cultivating their own business writing and curation skills.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Workplace Writing
Amy Rubens
Amy Rubens

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at Radford University and have over ten years of experience teaching at the college level.

I regularly teach courses in business and professional writing; new media writing; composition; and the medical humanities.

My primary research interest is the medical humanities, particularly the depiction of contagious disease in American lifewriting. I also have research interests in the rhetoric of social media and the ways networked, digital spaces shape notions of health.

In the past, I've worked as a freelance writer and editor for clients on both sides of the Atlantic. I currently consult on web design, social content creation, and grantwriting.

I'm inspired by the great outdoors and enjoy hiking. Eventually, I'd like to resume backpacking. When I'm not reading or writing, I like to spend time with my family members (both human and animal).

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers