Ever find yourself looking for a quick activity that has value for your learners but doesn’t require a lot of prep or extra work on your part? I think most educators find themselves in this position occasionally, whether it is an activity to kick off the class period, the learning session, or the conference workshop. A powerful but often overlooked tool in our arsenal is the quickwrite. Some of you are already thinking, that’s great, but I don’t teach English. I know, but the quickwrite is a flexible tool that all subjects, except maybe physical education (PE) and fitness/conditioning, can use daily, weekly, or periodically. Here are a few ways to make use of it regardless of the learning management system (LMS) that your district uses. While most of those listed on the graphic I created for a recent AVID presentation are self-explanatory, there are a few that will benefit from a closer look.
Who’s gonna pick you up when you fall?
Bell Ringer & Prior Knowledge
All three of these can be rolled up into one fabulous quickwrite activity. When used as a bell ringer, simply give students a prompt that they must respond to in a short amount of time (that’s the “quick” part of the “quickwrite”) in a sentence or more, depending on the age group of students. When students are writing, they are thinking. By using quick writes in the classroom, we provide students with opportunities to write to learn, to show what they know, to process information, and to stimulate their thinking. A bell ringer quickwrite can be used to access or assess prior knowledge before starting a new unit. You, the teacher, are in charge of what students write and think about during this activity, so using it to see what your students already know about the new unit is a great way to get double the value out of this powerful learning activity.
Who’s gonna hang it up when you call?
Brain dump, also called “free recall,” is a cognitive strategy based on decades of research that can take 5 minutes or less of class time and requires minimum prep by you, the teacher. It is a great way to implement retrieval practice, a strategy for helping students get out or “retrieve” the information they are receiving from instruction. The more students retrieve the information, the better chances it has for transferring from short-term to long-term memory. There are several ways to use this at different stages of the lesson. This quickwrite can be a “stop and jot” where you simply stop the lesson or activity after a few minutes and have students jot down everything they can remember up to that point. Continue your lesson or activity after the allotted time for the quickwrite. When using this type of quickwrite at the beginning of the lesson, have students write down as much as they can remember within a short time frame about what was covered, learned, discussed, or practiced in class yesterday. Adding in spacing or the passage of time between what is learned and retrieving that learning does increase the impact on student learning. If you want to use this type of quickwrite as an exit ticket, then simply have students write down everything they can remember from what you covered during the class period or lesson. This should be done individually, and it should not be graded. For the added benefit of students practicing academic conversations, allow partners to share their quickwrites with each other occasionally in order to provide timely feedback for students. (Click here for more information about retrieval practice and brain dumps).
Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?
A great way to use quick writes is to combine them with the power of nonlinguistic representation. Give students an image and minimal directions so that students have multiple correct responses and must make multiple decisions over what they write. This type of assignment ups the level of student engagement because they are able to make personal choices about what they write or how they write. The teacher can provide the image and have students generate text, or teachers can provide text that students then use to express ideas in a way that goes beyond the use of words. Students may express ideas about the text through diagrams, pictures, 3D models, movement, demonstrations, role-plays, simulations, or mental images. Math problems can be represented by cartoon characters instead of numbers, for example. Any time there are multiple ways to respond to or solve the problem there is more depth or critical thinking involved for the learner. According to an article by Robert Marzano via the ASCD website, there are five points to keep in mind about nonlinguistic representations:
- come in many forms
- must identify crucial information
- students should explain their representations
- nonlinguistic representations can take a lot of time
- students should revise their representations when necessary
Marzano further points out that nonlinguistic representations are a powerful technique and fresh approach that is available to classroom teachers that have a positive effect on student learning as well as provide diversity in the way students process information.
You can’t go on, thinking nothing’s wrong, but now
This may seem different from a pure quick write, but quick notes can function as one. There are many ways to do this in the classroom, and it can be a great way to start class by preparing students to “get their thinking on.” To help students start the notetaking process, give them a choice from a few pre-printed or digital generic graphic organizers. By generic, I am referring to one that does not have explicit directions or labels that might direct how a student uses the organizer. If those are all you have, then just make a copy and delete the labels or directions prior to making copies for the students or delete them digitally before placing the organizer in your class Learning Management System (LMS) for students to access. Provide either printed material or digital content for the students to take notes over, and explain to them what you want them to look for and the amount of time they have to do that. Since this is quick, you will want to keep the time you give students to complete it on the short end. Instruct students to use the organizer how they see fit, giving them autonomy over their notetaking process. When students become adept at taking quick notes (or notes in general), the graphic organizer may not be needed, but at first, it serves as a scaffold to help students get started. A blank piece of paper or digital document can be intimidating, but the graphic organizer immediately helps students begin planning where to put their information, and can also help them determine how much information to include, depending on the shapes present on the graphic organizer.
Graphic organizers also tap into the power of dual coding, which is when text and images related to the text are combined to help the brain encode the information in two ways. It helps make the learning sticky. The shapes on the graphic organizer can act as the image for each chunk of text placed within them, helping students move that information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. If quick notes become your routine for starting class, students can work on the same article or chapter for several days in a row, like a jigsaw activity but completed by the same student over a span of a few days. Day one can cover section 1, day 2 section or paragraph 2, etc. This concept can be similar to a close reading, where students look for different things each time they read. With this activity, they might look for the same things but over different parts of the text each day. What students focus on and for how long they have for taking notes is within the control of the teacher. How students take their notes should be within the control of the student.
Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?
Listicles have become an established genre of online writing. A listicle is an article written in list format. Each list item typically includes a few sentences or multiple paragraphs, and a listicle is meant to either educate or entertain readers, such as The Top 10 Songs of 2022, or a more informational one, like 5 Steps to Building Classroom Culture. Assignments for listicles can fit any subject or content area, and most grade levels. It is a great way to: do a quick write or longer research project, assess/access prior knowledge, have a fun or more engaging exit ticket, and the list of classroom applications for the listicle goes on and on. For example, if you are working with new vocabulary words, have students create a listicle of the Top 3 or Top 5 Vocabulary Words (or come up with a more creative title). Students can choose from their list and create an informative listicle over their chosen vocabulary words. To also qualify as a quick write, be sure to require only the number of words that students could list, define, and use in a sentence within the amount of time you plan to give them for the quick write. Listicles can also be used in summarizing content, and if used for a quick write, again be conscious of the amount of content you expect within the time constraints. (Click here for more information or ideas on how to use listicles in your classroom).
There are many more ways to utilize quickwrites in your classroom, but I hope these ideas help you get started using this powerful tool with your students.