Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 30 Crumble - Daily writing ideas for ALL contents

Writing is tricky to weave into some content areas, but it can and should be done as often as possible.  While my previous blog on Reaching Social Students discussed why we should allow students to discuss to process content, another of Project CRISS's Principles and Philosophies is writing for the use of processing content.  Both target different learning styles but are beneficial for all learners.  What writing does that discussion does not is allows an individual to reflect upon himself without the distraction of others' thoughts in the middle of a reflection.  "If we can write about content and explain what we are learning, we can claim knowledge as our own" (Santa, et. al, 2012).

And any teacher can use it.  Our job is to decide how and how often.  Just like with reading, sports, or music - daily practice makes writing a habitual activity.  Throwing it in on a weekly basis is definitely a good start, but what if you required writing daily?  So instead of boring you with theory and pedagogy, I've decided to give you some ideas and choices so you can decide how writing would work best for you:
  • Daily writing prompts (could be used as bellringers).  For science, life skills, PE, woodshop, computers, math, and other classes where physical action is required at times, consider having students write out their best idea of how they think they will accomplish a task, how they accomplished a task, or how they think they did on the accomplishment on the task.  Ask students to use a few of the Tier 3 words (content area words) that you've been introducing as a bonus!
  • Free writes.  During a lab, lesson, lecture, video, reading assignment, or other academic activity, stop about every six to eight minutes (1 minute per grade level) and ask students to write down anything that comes to mind about what they're doing (a question, prediction, inference, idea, connection, etc.).  They can use their class notebook, a sheet of paper to turn in, sticky notes, or desk white boards (these are always fun).  Change it up each time so they don't get bored with it, but the activity is the same.  Give students a 2-3 minute pause to write.  Decide whether you'll let them share with a partner or just move on.  This acts as a reset button for those who are starting to zone off, and it also allows for some processing time for those who need to catch up or who have questions.  Demonstrate this for your students as you're doing it so they understand that you truly are leaving it up to them!
  • Writing templates.  For your struggling writers who can barely get words out of their mouths, let alone produce anything in the form of a complete sentence in writing - use a writing template or paragraph frame for any writing activity!  I used a previous blog to discuss paragraph frames, and wowza!  What a difference it made in the writing of some of our students!  You don't want to give them a template forever, but you do want them to get into the habit of writing in a comprehensible way, so start out with a few templates.  An example of a writing template would be, "I don't understand why . . . because . . . "  or "I can really relate to . . . because . . . "  Giving students four to five templates from which to choose keeps their options open but also takes the stress out of forming understandable thoughts.  These work really nicely as exit slips.  And, again, after a PE activity, math lesson, art lesson, literature lesson - there is no limit here, friends!
  • Double entry reflective journals. Although not meant to necessarily be a daily activity, I believe this is one of my favorite of all of the CRISS strategies. To build some background on the topic or unit you're about to introduce, start your students off with a set of questions, quotations, thoughts, problems, etc.  Have them write their thoughts about each one.  Students can write questions, answers, inferences, predictions, reflections, or discuss anxieties about the content.  Then you teach the lesson or unit.  In a third column, have students go back to the same sheet and write their new thoughts about the information they were given before learning took place.  To expand on this even further, have them compare their thoughts before and after learning and write why they think their thoughts changed!  Here is an example of a double entry reflective journal.  If you click on it, it should enlarge well enough for you to see that the student reflected upon who he thought Edgar Allan Poe was after hearing about some of his writing and then who Poe really was after watching a documentary on Poe's life.
  • Dialogue journals.  These work similarly to the free-write above but with the added component of having a written discussion with a partner.  As a teacher I can use this as part of the free-write process if I choose.  Once students write their free-write, they can switch papers, read what their partner has written, and then respond.  Some care should be taken to teach students how to respond.  You might consider giving students some options such as: "I agree because . . . " "I understand what you mean when . . . " "I see what you're saying, but in my opinion . . . "
  • Observation entries.  These are so much fun and can be used anywhere!  Have students observe anything and write about it.  Period.  What you did to find a research topic, how you play an F on a clarinet, how you work together in groups, how to properly use hand tools . . . anything!  When I went to the IRC Conference back in March, observation was such a key tool in so many of the ideas presented.  Friends, we are the models for our students - have them watch you do what you do best and then have them write about it!
  • Perspective entries.  Have students write about what they're learning, but have them write from a perspective other than a student sitting in your class. 
You can't tell me that there isn't one writing idea above that you'd can't use in your classroom this week.  Writing (as you can see) is a bit of a passion for me, and the thought that our students could potentially be doing it eight periods a day makes me giddy!  It would be like a basketball coach watching students practice basketball drills for ten minutes every period while reviewing math concepts before getting down and dirty with a new lesson in algebra!  Can you imagine how much better writers our students would be if we had them writing more often?  Just consider it this week.  Your content areas are so important, and adding a writing component would be like plugging in another tangible way for you to assess how well your students are internalizing what you consider to be important.

Stay cool!


  1. I love these ideas! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Of all people, I'm pretty sure you're not the one who could use instruction on how to use writing. Lol. But you're welcome!!!