Moving Beyond the 5-Paragraph Essay
During my presentation at the Secondary Schools Writing Centers Association (SSWCA) Conference recently, a participant asked how she could support her student writers without relying on formulas such as the commonly-taught 5 Paragraph Essay.
This is a great question and is one many educators grapple with. In fact, it is one of the most common questions I field when presenting at conferences. Many teachers understand the importance of moving away from writing formulas, but very few of us have the tools we need to provide support for students absent those writing formulas.
So we've developed a five-part blog series where we’ll explore this question at length, focusing on one formula-free approach in each blog.
This post, is all about quick writes.
What is a Quick Write?
As the name suggests, a quick write is a piece of writing that students can produce in a short amount of time, usually 5- or 10-minutes. These activities are great for educators because they are both easy to integrate and very versatile.
Integrating regular low-stakes writing opportunities for students is a great way to get them writing on a daily basis. Many teachers, for example, build in quick-writes as part of their daily instruction, often in the form of bell-ringers or exit-ticket reflections.
Quick Writes as Bell Ringers
A bell ringer is an activity that students conduct at the very beginning of class (just after the bell rings) and has the added benefit of giving the teacher time to conduct administrative tasks such as taking attendance before core instruction commences. Integrating quick writes as bell ringer activities is one of the easiest ways to get students primed and ready to go for their upcoming instruction.
Many teachers understand the importance of moving away from writing formulas but very few of us have the tools we need to provide support for students absent those writing formulas.
Quick Writes as Mid-Lesson Informative Checks
While less commonly integrated in the middle of a lesson, quick-writes are an easy way to break up a longer lesson and provide teachers with an informative check for understanding before the lesson progresses too far. If you have 90-minute instructional blocks, for example, breaking up the lesson into smaller chunks can be a great way to keep students motivated.
Quick Writes as Exit Tickets
Exit tickets are activities that signal the end of instruction and offer opportunities for students to reflect on that day’s learning, express any lingering confusion, or anticipate upcoming lessons. Not only do exit tickets provide much needed reflection for students, allowing them to deepen their understanding of that day’s learning, but they also allow teachers to conduct informative checks for understanding and to address any questions or confusion that may be lingering for students before the unit gets too far underway.
A Word of Caution
While quick writes are important and necessary exercises, don’t fall into the trap of confusing quick-writes with the cure-all for formulaic writing. Rather, viewing them as a springboard for deeper learning will ultimately provide more utility for teachers and students alike.
Quick writes do provide low-stakes writing opportunities and, importantly, a chance for students to anticipate or reflect upon their learning. But because, as the name implies, they are quick writes, they still limit the depth of practice and range of writing experiences students are exposed to. Building in time to return to these quick writes later in the unit provides an easy opportunity to extend student learning and ensure students recognize the value of these exercised over all.
Take student quick writes to the