How I Introduced My Class to ChatGPT

It was time to bring the ChatGPT Elephant into my Classroom… Photo by Magda Ehlers on

ChatGPT is the bot that launched a thousand thought pieces (here is a primer on it, if you somehow haven’t encountered it). The takes I’ve seen have ranged from declarations that it will bring about the death of the college essay and high school English to it being an indispensable tool for realtors or those looking for a raise to prognostications about it shaking white collar work and democracy itself to their foundations.

I, too, have guesses, hopes, and fears about ChatGPT and the recent rise of AI, but given the firehose of here-is-what-I-think-ChatGPT-will-do pieces at this moment, I’m not sure I have much new to add in the predictions department, especially since the last three years have taught me that reading the tea leaves about the future might not be my strongest suit.

Even still, as a newsletter focused on writing instruction, it feels important to discuss how I am handling it right now, as the writing class is ground zero for where this new technology is already making an impact. In fact, a few weeks ago I received my first clearly AI-generated essay, and I’m guessing some of you have also experienced that. So instead of a predictive piece, I want to share how I am approaching, and yes, using, ChatGPT in my classes right now.

It is worth noting that we are in very new territory here, so there aren’t specific established best practices. Instead this is just my first attempt at discussing and using something very new based on practices that have worked in other areas. If you are doing something different or see something that could be improved upon, I’d love to hear about it! Alright, here we go:

Before last week I worried about mentioning ChatGPT to my students. Like many others, I fear that some students might begin to use or grow reliant on it or other AI in ways that could stunt their growth as writers, thinkers, and people. After all, the not-so-secret key to writing growth is simply to write a lot, but that writing doesn’t count if an AI is doing it for you. I also worried that colleagues/administration/parents might grow upset with me for showing students a new tool that could be used as a plagiarism machine.*

But in the last few weeks, I noticed more and more students talking about it (especially after our district banned it from school computers) and the first reports of students using it started to trickle in. By the time I received my first ChatGPT paper, I knew it was probably time to talk about it, as I find the best way to handle tools that can be used to cut corners and plagiarize is to talk about them openly.

It is worth noting that there already exist plenty of tools for cheating, ranging from Sparknotes to friends or family who get overly involved, and at times the lines concerning these helpers is kind of blurry. When does a parent/peer reviewer cross into plagiarism? And is referencing source material online always cheating? The answers to these questions can be tricky, so open discussion—as opposed to quiet ignoring—has worked the best for avoiding major issues around academic integrity in my class in the past. 

With this in mind, last week I tentatively welcomed the ChatGPT Elephant into my classroom, and beyond discussing that it exists, I also decided to use it with the students in a way that underscores the value of what we do in class.

I began my introduction with a brief description of the advances in writing AI followed by my favorite of all ChatGPT hot takes I’ve heard. It is worth noting that this take this take didn’t come from the The Atlantic or New York Times; it came from a colleague down the hall who one day wondered out loud whether the creation of AI will have the same impact on writing that the creation of the photograph had on visual art—which is a de-emphasis on rote replication (because a machine could do it) and increased emphasis on style and voice.  

Her reasoning was that the creation of photography in the 1830s was followed by a great deal of hand-wringing about whether it was the end of visual art in the same way that ChatGPT has led many to wonder if secondary and postsecondary humanities and the jobs they feed are doomed. And, yet the response to the photograph was not the cessation of visual art; instead it led to an evolution of visual art towards styles that leaned more heavily into style and perspective like impressionism.

This notion made complete sense to me, so that is where we began our conversation:

I then explained to the class that I don’t know if ChatGPT and its coherent, yet often dull, text will lead to a focus on style and voice, but it is reasonable guess that knowing how to differentiate our writing from an AI or how to identify the gaps that AI has will be important skills in the upcoming years. And when it comes to AI text, one of its most glaring issues is that it doesn’t quite work in terms of the cadence, emphasis, and overall topography of voice. Here are my slides for discussing that. The first is discussing topography and emphasis…

Followed by some moderately hilarious attempts of ChatGPT to express excitement (the second one with the capitals had my class in stitches).

We followed these examples with a discussion of the writing tools we’ve already learned about that can help us to add topography and emphasis and voice to our written work in a way that ChatGPT simply can’t: Thoughtful use of punctuation like dashes and colons, deploying rhetorical devices like parallel structure and purposeful fragments, and playing with formatting tools that range from italics to using one-sentence paragraphs.

And lastly, we used our knowledge to see if we could best the AI. You can probably guess who won… (my students claimed that the competition was over even before it began because ChatGPT, in its response to a request to describe Michigan in the winter mentions multiple times about the sunshine, and anyone who has spent a winter in Michigan knows that it is never sunny in the wintertime; see the example below).

The idea behind the lesson was that I wanted to introduce ChatGPT in a way that didn’t completely elevate it as the ultimate writing aide (as I am very nervous about outsourcing things like idea generation or organization because when we outsource something our brain tends to get pretty bad pretty quick at those tasks: see what GPS did to our ability to navigate) or demonize and ban it because that doesn’t work and cuts us off from a potentially powerful tool.  

I also wanted to demystify it by showing that while it is impressive and has taken in billions of lines of text, there are still things that all of my 9th graders can do that it can’t.

And lastly I just wanted to open a wider discussion about ChatGPT and other AIs and their roles in the classroom and potentially in the students’ lives. I don’t know where this is all going, but I feel confident that the best way to get there is by talking about it. This was my first ChatGPT lesson, but it won’t be my last.

In the end, my way is just one way, but I thought I would share it as a starting point for those who are thinking about discussing it in their classes. If you have a different way, I’d love to hear about it too, as we are definitely in this one together.

Yours in Teaching,


*For those who are fearful of introducing a tool that can be used for plagiarism, I do think the best defensive is conversation about where the lines are in the classroom and why they matter. This defense is further strengthened by the fact that we writing teachers we already have plenty of checks on students using AI to do our work: Incorporating a robust writing process that includes writing proposals, conferences, and peer response; using Google Docs or some other program that allows us to see revision history; and leaning into more organic, interesting writing that can’t be mimicked by AI. When I got the student-Chat paper, it was obvious to me within three lines where it came from, and a check of the revision history and paper proposal confirmed my suspicions.

If You Liked This…

Join my mailing list and you will receive a thoughtful post about finding balance and success as a writing teacher each week along with exciting subscriber-only content. Also, as an additional thank you for signing up, you will also receive a short ebook on how to cut feedback time without cutting feedback quality that is adapted from my book Flash Feedback: Responding to Student Writing Better and Faster – Without Burning Out from Corwin Literacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: