Volume X, Issue III
Boost Writing Production and Engagement
Heather Clayton, the author of Making the Standards Come Alive!, is the principal of Mendon Center Elementary School in Pittsford Central School District, New York. She is also a co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning published by Just ASK.
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
“I didn’t write because I had anything to say, but in order to find out what there was to say.”
As we return to another school year, there will still be many unknowns. What we do know, however, is that our students deserve the promise of sound instructional practices that meet them where they are and prepare them for what’s to come. Now, more than ever, it the time to have predictable routines, opportunities to build stamina, and classrooms where it is safe to take risks as learners. One way to do this is through the use of daily Quickwrites.
In his book, Conditions for Learning, Brian Cambourne shares how “The majority of teachers frame writing as a medium for communication. Very few frame it as a medium for thinking, learning and solving problems.” However, that is precisely what writing should be for our students: the opportunity to think on the page and put writing to paper every day, rather than spending their time thinking about what to write. According to author Paula Bourque, “Frequent short bursts of writing throughout the day give our students more time to think on paper with greater automaticity, fluency, and agency to discover what they know.”
What are Quickwrites?
Quickwrites are an instructional strategy that can be integrated into any content area. They are frequent, brief, timed written responses to a stimulus given by the teacher. Typically, a quickwrite requires students to put their thoughts on paper for 2-3 uninterrupted minutes, and do not allow for planning and revising. Quickwrites are low stakes writing opportunities and are not graded or evaluated by the teacher. As Paula Bourque puts it, quickwrites are “thinking and inking.”
Benefits of Quickwrites
Foster a habit of writing.
When our students are expected to write each day in a way that engages thinking, promotes reflection, and allows for creativity, we are building lifelong writers. Writing becomes a tool for thinking and problem-solving; through repeated practice our students will be much more likely to reach for a pen when communicating important ideas, opinions, and observations.
Increase students’ motivation for writing.
Quickwrites are short sprints, where everyone has an entry point to begin writing. Students see a distinct beginning and end and are inspired to put their thoughts on paper to share with others.
Strengthen relationships between students and teacher.
When students share their quickwrites, it gives both the teacher and other students in the classroom a window into their thinking. Teachers get to know their students’ passions, opinions, questions, and hopes by reading these short, unevaluated pieces of writing.
Improve students’ stamina and fluency in writing.
Many of our reluctant or struggling writers struggle with fluency, or the ability to think while they are writing in order to get their words on the page. Quickwrites give our students practice generating text and getting their thoughts from their heads onto paper. The more students write, the longer they will be able to write without fatiguing or losing engagement.
Build students’ confidence.
When engaging in quickwrites, our students are initiating a piece of writing every day. Students see that in order to think, you just need to begin writing, therefore reducing the time that students are stuck staring at the blank page. Because quickwrites are not evaluated, students can feel confident taking risks and putting their thoughts to paper.
How to Implement Quickwrites
Quickwrites can be used to start a class, end a class, or as a way to reflect in between.
The stimulus chosen to be a springboard for writing should be purposeful and aligned with curricular goals.
The possibilities are endless for what a teacher may choose as a writing stimulus. However, the stimulus should be no more than a page in length, and should only take a minute or two to review prior to writing. Some examples of stimuli that can be used to inspire writing include:
- Excerpts from longer texts
- Political cartoons
- Headlines or portions of new articles
- Pieces of student writing or teacher writing
- Short videos
- Reflection prompts: Resources for sources of stimuli for quickwrites include:
- Art for quickwrites
- Infographics for quickwrites
- A year of picture prompts from New York Times
- Art for quickwrites
Begin by projecting the writing stimulus or providing each student with a copy. If applicable, read it aloud. Students will then respond either to a prompt you have provided or by simply writing their reactions to the stimulus. Some students may write in complete sentences and complete thoughts, while others may use bulleted ideas or visuals to convey their thinking. Either is appropriate and reinforces the act of putting ideas to paper. For maximum impact, as students are writing write or draw your own Quickwrite along with them. Kelly Gallaghar writes, “Of all of the strategies I have learned over the years, there is one that stands far above the rest when it comes to improving my student’s writing: The teacher should model writing – and think out loud while writing – in front of the class.”
If, after 2-3 minutes, more than half of the class is still writing, allow 1 more minute to write.
Invite students to share. Sharing can be handled a number of different ways, depending on the age of the students and the preferences of the teacher. For example, you could select a few students to share with the whole class, or invite students to share in partners or in small groups. It is also important to share your own Quickwrites with students from time to time.
Comment on what the students have done well with their thinking and writing.
Tips for Implementing Quickwrites
Schedule quickwrites so their implementation is predictable and consistent. The power of quickwrites comes from the frequent opportunities for students to think, reflect, and write. If not possible daily, try for every other day.
Leverage the opportunity to integrate curricular goals (either social-emotional or academic) with Quickwrites.
Keep all Quickwrites in one place, such as a writer’s notebook. This way, students can reflect on their writing or thinking over time, in addition to seeing their growth as writers. (For more information on writer’s notebooks, go to Making the Standards Come Alive! library and access the issue titled “The Writer’s Notebook: A High Leverage Practice for Uncertain Times”
If a student is stuck on how to get going with a Quickwrite, encourage them to lift a line from the stimulus and copy it down as a way of beginning. In the event the child still is unsure of what to write, simply have them write observations or questions about the stimulus used.
Be sure to always include the chance to share, as this is where relationships are strengthened and students can learn to value the perspectives and thinking of others. Depending on the age of the students, you may want to include some prompts to help with sharing such as:
- I shared (similar or different thinking) than _________ because…
- I (agree or disagree) with ______’s ideas because…
- ______ made me think about…
- After hearing ______’s ideas, I wonder…
Examples of Quickwrites
One of the greatest gifts we can give our students is to instill in them a love of writing. Quickwrites not only support our reluctant writers, but those fluent writers who may be in need of fresh perspectives, new ideas, and exposure to different genres. Through daily writing experiences like Quickwrites, our students can find their voice, connect with others, and communicate knowledge effectively. The stakes are low, but the rewards are extraordinarily high!
For more information about literacy across the curriculum, see chapter 5 titled “Incorporating 21st Century Literacies” in Why Didn’t I Learn This in College?
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use.
Please include the following citation on all copies:
Clayton, Heather. “Quickwrites: Boost Writing Production and Engagement.” Making the Standards Come Alive! Volume X, Issue I 2021. Available at www.justaskpublications.com. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. ©2021. All rights reserved.