Teaching style in 15 minutes

So much of teaching writing is hard.  Students learn by writing, and oftentimes, that process leaves me with large stacks of essays.

But that’s not the only way to teach students to write.

Recently, I’ve discovered a great tool:  the individual student whiteboard.

Here’s how it works:

  1.  In class, I ask students to write for five minutes in response to a prompt.  Ideally, the prompt builds on a recent class activity.  After discussing the opening of Things Fall Apart, I asked, “What are Okonkwo’s strengths and weaknesses and what might Achebe be trying to say?” or “What does this culture value and how do you know?”  You have to write for the entire five minutes, I say.  Flex those analytical muscles.
  2. After five minutes, I ask students to revise using specific style strategies.  Recent favorites include using strong verbs and saving the best part of the sentence for the end.
  3. Students then write their two best sentences using these specific style strategies on an individual whiteboard.
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  4. Finally, we take a gallery walk around the room, dry-erase pens in hand, starring or otherwise marking the sentences we really like.

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I love this activity.   Students are using a specific strategy in the moment.  Also, it’s low stakes.  They only have five minutes; there’s no room for perfectionism. Furthermore, I can easily see who understands the concept–and who doesn’t.  Finally, students learn from their peers’ successes.  If she can do that, they think, I can do that, too.   And the student who’s an all-star writer–who might also be more quiet–receives public praise and recognition.

They think, they write, they edit, they share, they compliment.  All in 15 minutes.

And I didn’t grade a single paper.

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