10 Assessments You Can Perform In 90 Seconds

10-assessment-90-seconds10 Assessments You Can Perform In 90 Seconds

by TeachThought Staff

Good assessment is frequent assessment.

Any assessment is designed to provide a snapshot of student understand—the more snapshots, the more complete the full picture of knowledge.

On its best day, an assessment will be 100% effective, telling you exactly what a student understands. More commonly, the return will be significantly lower as the wording of questions, the student’s sense of self-efficacy, or other factors diminish their assessment performance. It sounds obvious, but a student is a human being with an entire universe of personal problems, distraction, and related challenges in recalling the information in the form the assessment demands.

This makes a strong argument for frequent assessment, as it can be too easy to over-react and “remediate” students who may be banging against the limits of the assessment’s design rather than their own understanding. Rather than re-teaching, sometimes all that is necessary is re-measuring.

It is a huge burden (for both teachers and students) to design, write, complete, grade, and absorb the data into an instructional design sequence on a consistent basis. So why not frequent, simple assessments?

Simple Assessments

The word “simple” here is misleading. Rather than describing the cognitive load on the student, it instead describes the complexity of the assessment form itself. The simpler the assessment—in terms of process and logistics—the more “purely” it can function as a tool to get at what a student actually understands, and help you identify how to help them.

Then, due to their brevity, they’re simple to grade–in fact, you can grade them as exit slips–which makes taking the data and informing instruction (the whole point of assessment) a much simpler process as well.

1. New Clothes

Take a given topic—thesis statements, push-pull factors, the scientific process, etc.—and describe how it can be used in some way other than how you’ve been taught.

Example of Student Response: We’ve learned the scientific process by looking at how actual scientists study new things, but the scientific process would also make an excellent tool for detectives to use while pursuing criminals. It would allow them to observe data, form theories, test theories while collecting more data, and draw conclusions that can then be judged in a court of law.

2. Dos & Don’ts

List 3 Dos and 3 Don’ts when using, applying, relating to the content (e.g., 3 Dos and Don’ts for solving an equation).

Example of Student Response: When adding fractions, DO find a common denominator, DO add the numerators once you’ve found a common denominators, DON’T simply add the denominators

3. Three Most Common Misunderstandings

List what you think might be the three most common misunderstandings of a given topic based on an audience of your peers.

Example of Student Response: In analyzing tone, most people probably confuse mood and tone, forget to look beyond the diction to the subtext as well, and to strongly consider the intended audience.

4. Yes/No Chart

List what you do and don’t understand about a given topic—what you do on the left, what you don’t on the right, but you overly-vague responses don’t count. Specificity matters!

Example of Student Response: In learning about paragraph structure (Do Understand): what a topic sentence is, how many sentences a paragraph should have, that a paragraph should be about one idea; (Don’t Understand) how a paragraph can have a conclusion, how to know when I’ve given enough supporting details in the paragraph, how to revise a paragraph

5. Three Questions

Ask three questions about the topic, then rank them in terms of their importance/value.

Example of Student Response: Low Importance: Does the prefix “tri” mean 3? Medium Importance: Is the triangle the only 3-sided geometrical figure? High Importance: Why don’t triangles show up very often in nature (as so many other shapes do)?

6. Explain What Matters

Explain the most critical part of a given topic to a self-selected audience (must clarify) in two or fewer sentences. (Audience can be anyone!)

Example of Student Response: The most important part of a thesis statement is clarity and conviction, so I’ll explain that one to Jay-Z: A thesis statement is kind of like the hook or title of one of your songs–it delivers the message that the song goes on to explain. Feel me?

7. Big Picture

Diagram the context–where does it fit in and how does it function in its natural “bigger picture.” This is good for abstract or right-brain thinkers.

Example of Student Response: It is impossible to understand the rules we live by and how they’re formed without understanding the 3 branches of government.

8. Venn Diagram

Compare/Contrast a given topic to a tangent topic (e.g., the water cycle to distillation, symbolism to allusion, etc.)

Example of Student Response: A Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting symbolism and allusion, or tone and mood.

9. Draw It

Draw what you do understand.

Example of Student Response: A drawing of what an adjective thinks about a noun, or a how much smaller in size the thousandth’s place is compared to the ten’s place.

10. Self-Directed Response

Prove to me you understand in diagram, written, or related form in a way that a stranger would understand.

Example of Student Response: I wrote this chorus of a song I’ve been thinking of that would explain this character’s motivation….


9 Writing Prompts You Can Use In Class Tomorrow



Defend or critique: Statistics lie.

Answer: How does math support critical thinking?

Respond: “The essence of mathematics is its freedom.” (G. Cantor)


Defend or critique: Science has limits.

Answer: What is most important about a scientific model?

Respond: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” (M. Curie)

English-Language Arts

Defend or critique: Poetry is anthropology.

Answer: What is the most easily misunderstood difference between tone and mood?

Respond: “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.” (G.K Chesterton)


21 Creative Digital Essays You Can Use In Your Classroom

Prezi is not new, and by now you’ve heard about it and have already decided whether or not you like it. (Of course when you say you don’t like it, you mean you don’t think it’s an effective learning tool, right?)

The draw is simple enough: novel presentations that tell stories or relay arguments and ideas. It is marketed as the “non-PowerPoint”–the software that allows you to “jazz up” presentations (while making you seasick in the process).

But focusing on its novelty misses the power of a digital essay: multimodal (and multimedia), non-linear narrative and argument sequences that can support text, images, voiceovers, YouTube videos, music and more while using the background and pathways themselves as layers of additional meaning. Learners can express ideas, then reinforce select details, a thesis, or even a narrative event by having free control over the “camera” and where the readers eyes go. This can be very, very powerful if done correctly.

As Simple Or Complex As You’d Like

Digital essays on prezi can be used as very simply–to copy/paste typed pencil/paper essays, or in far more creative and interesting ways.

To show what’s possible, I’ve gathered up 21 of the more interesting (and academic-focused) presentations so that you can have a look-see. You can use them in your classroom for their content, or use them as models for students to see what’s possible.

Note that even with the digital essays below, each are interesting for different reasons, but even many of these are guilty of the occasional gratuitous zoom and spin. But before you hate prezi for this, realize that just because others abuse the spin and zoom doesn’t mean your students have to. Let them know ahead of time–no gratuitousness, unnecessary spinning or zooming; give a badge to the student that shows the most restraint here, they’ll figure it out.

They’re all embedded below–hopefully it doesn’t crash your browser.

21 Amazing Digital Essays You Can Use In Your Classroom

1. Reimagining Public Education

2. Social Media 101

3. Digital Portfolios

4. Heart of Darkness

5. Prezi & Mobile Learning

6. Plot Diagramming

7.  How Prezi Works

8. Syria: The Basics

9. 30 Things About Me: A Personal Essay

10. Martin Luther King, Jr.

11. Android 101

12. A Visual Overview Of Typography

13. Artificial Intelligence

14. The Destruction Of Non-Linear Learning

15. Sensation & Perception

16. What’s A Prezi?

17. Cyberbullying

18. The Theory Of Relativity

19. From Assignment To Research

20. Everything That Rises Must Converge

21. Operations With Fractions

Bonus: This is a rambling, opinion-based but thorough look at the intersection between population growth, culture, and public education I wrote last year. It’s very long. Brownie points if you make it all the way through.


The Definition Of Sexting

The Definition Of Sexting

by TeachThought Staff

This is the first in a 3-part series on sexting and technology. These will be quick-hitting posts to sketch out the problem and begin to address it.

The first will look at the definition of sexting and the scale of the problem, the second tomorrow evening will take a look at Snapchat, an app that has found a niche as a sexting facilitator, while the third will look at how you can begin to respond as an educator.


Sexting is what it sounds like it might be–sending sexually-implicit or explicit text message. These are usually multimedia texts–pictures of the sender in various stages of undress. 

But they don’t necessarily have to be nude images. Sexually implicit text-only messages also qualify. In fact, sexting could be defined as the process of sending any communication that relays sexual desire or intent.

These are usually sent from a mobile device, whether through the phone’s stock messaging system, or apps like Snapchat. This makes them easy to take, send, and delete while minimizing “getting caught.”

Whether they are a natural product of sexual curiosity or further proof that the sky is falling depends on your perspective, but it’s hard to dispute the danger a teen (or adult) faces with naked pictures of themselves floating around. When you involve schools into the equation, the situation gets even more delicate–and dangerous.

Sexting Statistics

According to the following infographic, 25% of all men have sent a “sext” to someone who wasn’t a partner, compared to 16% of women.

16% of presumably those same men have sent sexts to family members by accident, compared to 8% of women.

48% of women have sent a sext to a partner, compared to only 45% of men.

While these figures describe sexting patterns of adults, for teens it’s not much different.

According to National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 40% of teen boys and 37% of teen girls admit to sending sexually implicit text messages. The actual statistics vary from study to study, but the message is clear: somewhere approaching half of teens are likely to send or receive “sext messages.”

Tomorrow, we’ll look at one of the main facilitators of this trend, and Tuesday we’ll finish up with a look at how you can address it in your school or classroom–both directly and indirectly.


Sexting & Technology: The Definition Of Sexting

Project-Based Learning

3 Types Of Project-Based Learning Symbolize Its Evolution


Project-Based Learning is an increasingly popular trend in the 21st century.

The best evidence for this popularity might be the nuance it’s taken on. Project-Based Learning has gone from academic study that yields end-of-unit projects, to highly complex methods of creating and publishing student thinking. It is more closely associated with 21st century learning skills than perhaps any other form of learning, and new technology in the classroom is improving its potential exponentially.

The Definition Of Project-Based Learning

Broadly speaking, Project-Based Learning is simply a method of structuring curriculum around projects. These projects highlight the process of learning itself by offering authentic, inquiry-based activities for learners to access content, share ideas, and revisit their own thinking.

There is a difference between projects and project-based learning, primarily that Project-Based Learning is about the process, and projects are about the product that comes at the end. Project-Based Learning often requires students not simply to collect resources, organize work, and manage long-term activities, but also to collaborate, design, revise, and share their ideas and experiences with authentic audiences and supportive peer groups.

This can come in many shapes and sizes, and three appear below.

3 Types Of Project-Based Learning

1. Challenge-Based Learning/Problem-Based Learning

Challenge-Based Learning is “an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems through efforts in their homes, schools and communities.”

It is fundamentally a re-branded version of Problem-Based Learning in that both have finding solutions to problems over a period of time as their structure.

2. Place-Based Education

Place-Based Education

  • “immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences; u
  • ses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum, and e
  • mphasizes learning through participation in service projects for the local school and/or community.”

Technically one could learn through a Place-Based Education and not do projects at all, but the idea of performing authentic work in intimate communities certainly lends itself neatly to Project-Based Learning.

Projects performed in local communities.

3. Activity-Based Learning

Activity-Based Learning takes a kind of constructivist approach, the idea being students constructing their own meaning through hands-on activities, often with manipulatives and opportunities to experiment. Much of the information out there on Activity-Based Learning comes form India, but Pearson also has some textbook-based resources as well.


Other Learning Theories Embedded In Project-Based Learning

No matter the type of Project-Based Learning, you’ll likely notice the constant presence of constructionism, the theory that learners continuously create their own meaning. But constructionism is not unique to Project-Based Learning.

Constructivism, however, is something a bit closer. Seymour Papert, a student of Piaget who developed the theory explains the difference.

“Constructionism–the N word as opposed to the V word–shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.”

An important shift then is the movement from the private to the public, a key piece of Project-Based Learning.

Situated Learning, a learning theory posited by Jean Lave, proposes that “learning is unintentional and situated within authentic activity, context, and culture.” It is a kind of merging of behaviorist and cognitive theories of learning, and also is inherent in many forms of Project-Based Learning, and itself is related to connectivism and communal constructivism.

Game-Based Learning can also be used within Project-Based Learning, but like constructionism is not entirely unique to Project-Based Learning.


Learning through projects doesn’t sound especially revolutionary, and in fact it’s not. Other trends in education far surpass the pomp and circumstance of Project-Based Learning, but that’s missing the point: Project-Based Learning is a flexible method of anchoring curriculum around authentic projects that can then support so many other promising trends in learning, from Game-Based Learning and Blended Learning, to gamification and the Flipped Classroom.

You don’t have to pick and choose tools–fundamental best practices in cognitive learning theories are naturally embedded in the process, and the latest digital tools and technology are always a natural fit. As technology in the classroom and at home improves, what Project-Based Learning looks like will continue to evolve.

And that’s perhaps the best news of all.

Image attribution gammarayproductions and vancouverfilmschool


20 Interesting Ways To Use Twitter In The Classroom

Using social media in a modern learning environment seems easy, but that simplicity is often the result of how we think about it: new ways to accomplish old tasks.

Below is a visual spectrum that offers 20 ideas for using twitter in a 21st century classroom. Many of these may not directly “fit” your grade level or content area and might function better as a kind of brainstorming to get your own thinking started.

We’ve done this kind of spectrum before–one on twitter, one on the iPad, one on Project-Based Learning. Please find our facebook page or twitter account and offer any good ideas we undoubtedly missed!

20 Interesting Ways To Use Twitter In The Classroom

twitter spectrum 2


20 Ways High Schools Are Using Twitter In The Classroom

twitter-and-higher-order-thinking-skills-revised-fi20 Ways High Schools Are Using Twitter In The Classroom

by TeachThought Staff

Plenty of colleges are getting tuned in to all of the great things you can do with Twitter, but unfortunately, many high schools are still held back by restrictive social media policies.

However, the lucky few who are able to take advantage of Twitter are already doing amazing things. Chatting with students in Pakistan, reporting high school football on the fly, and supplementing classroom discussion are just a few of the great ways high schools have made use of Twitter. Read on, and we’ll explore 20 innovative ways high schools are making use of this great social media tool.


    In foreign language classrooms (and beyond) students learn about verbs with the help of Twitter. Through the service, students tweet verbs, their definitions, morphology, and grammatical functions, and as the tweets come in, teachers and peers fix or give hints on incorrect entries. Teachers can see how and where students make mistakes, and have them immediately corrected, while students can understand how they’re making mistakes before getting too far, offering immediate formative assessment.


    So many school districts are using both Twitter and Facebook to reach out to plugged-in parents without having to send home notes in kids’ backpacks. Lunch menus, school board meetings, and even discussions about school district decisions are being shared online. Proponents of school districts on Twitter support this move, pointing out that districts can get instant feedback, and parents can conveniently share their insights. In one Portland public school, after sending out information about swine flu and recommending that students wash their hands frequently, community members pointed out that there are unreliable faucets, and the school was able to respond with maintenance workers.


    High school students can sometimes be quite introverted and shy in the classroom, but outspoken online. Additionally, some high school classes move through discussions quickly, and not all students find the opportunity to speak up in class. Both of these issues are addressed as high school classes encourage a Twitter backchannel discussion, in which quiet, shy, and unable-to-get-a-word-in-edgewise students are able to speak up in class without actually speaking up in class, sharing their comments, insights, and even relevant links through Twitter as the discussion goes on. Educators have found that Twitter backchannel discussions provide for more interaction not just in the classroom, but beyond, as students often enjoy further carrying on the conversation even after class time is over.


    Twitter makes the education world smaller, connecting principals, teachers, and other education professionals across the U.S. and even around the globe. Principal Sheninger at New Milford High School in New Jersey started using Twitter to keep in touch with parents, but found its real value in reaching out to other educators and collaborating with them. He is able to use the tool to find new ideas, new resources, and ideas for professional development.


    Wise politicians know that listening to the people is their most important job, and as such, so many have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon to connect with constituents and voters, particularly during campaign season. One 11th-grade social studies class in Canada is using a Twitter classroom to reach out to candidates in local elections, allowing students to become more informed and feel more involved in the political process. The students send out questions to the candidates, and often, get responses right back.


    Illinois high school English teacher Tracee Orman uses Twitter to enrich the learning experience of Hunger Games, asking students to tweet as if they were a character from a chapter in the book. This is a fun way to engage students in the content that they’re studying, and a great practice in learning empathy and understanding of characters.


    At Iowa’s Valley High School, Sarah Bird’s DigiTools class uses Twitter as a tool for reviewing material. After each discussion Bird asks her students to twitter their MVP (Most Valuable Point) using their classroom hashtag. This quick exercise allows students to further digest and understand the material at hand, while at the same time creating a great resource for future review.


    In some schools, high school newspapers just aren’t getting the attention they used to, as students are often glued to phones, tablets, and laptops much more regularly than anything representing real paper. Some school newspapers are now using Twitter as a way to aggregate news information, tweet stories as they happen, and interact with their audience through questions and polls. Freedom High student journalists in Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Township often live-tweet updates about football games right from the stands, sharing news for those who can’t make it to the game.


    Adam Taylor’s class at Nashville’s Overton High School connects with students half a world away in Pakistan, and they’re quite enthusiastic about it. The two classes discuss student voices in school, cultural stereotypes, and more, learning what life is like outside of their own classroom and culture. Taylor’s idea has been quite popular, and is even such a great draw that students are willing to come in early to school for the discussions.


    One nonprofit group, Jersey Cares, targets tweets to find volunteers to fill their recruitment needs, and has found that many high schoolers answer the call. High school groups use Twitter to locate projects in their area where they can help out, since so many nonprofits are speaking out and asking for help on the social media service.


    English teachers often need to teach the importance of brevity in writing, and Twitter is such a great tool for that, with its 140 character limit per tweet. Through the service, teachers assign tweets as a way to encourage understanding and efficient use of language.


    In California, Half Moon Bay High School history students can actually have fun with their quizzes, which take place on Twitter. Teacher Mike Putnam uses the social media service to ask fun questions that students answer, such as, “Who would you rather have dinner with? Adams, Jefferson, or Washington?”


    As classrooms focus on a particular unit or subject, Twitter offers a great opportunity for staying up to date with learning beyond textbooks. Through Twitter, high school classrooms are tracking words, in which they subscribe to all tweets that include a particular words or phrase, like “Pearl Harbor,” or “woodworking,” returning results with insights, new developments, and more. This exercise is great for allowing students to follow current events and learn about resources they might not otherwise find.


    Minneapolis English teacher Candace Boerema doesn’t use Twitter for assignments, but she does keep up the educational chatter, and encourages her students to interact with Twitter. With questions like, “Who are you in Elizabethan England?” and “Is chivalry dead?,” Boerema sparks offline discussion and interaction among her students that’s reported to be inspiring and great for keeping students connected even when they’re not in class.


    Whether it’s for sending the glee club off to regionals or shoes to South America, high schools always seem to have a need for fundraising, and they can use all the help they can get. Some schools have turned to Twitter and Facebook to get the word out, going social, and hopefully viral, in their efforts. Aided by online fundraising platforms and online payment tools, they’re able to do virtual fundraising to complement and even replace traditional car washes and bake sales.


    Everyone is on Twitter these days, from celebrities to the President, and some high school classrooms are smart enough to take advantage of that. In Madison County, Ala., students use Twitter to interact with historians around the world. They put together questions to ask historians on Twitter, getting answers that may not be easy to find in their history books. This sort of interaction is great for learning from experts, and teaches students the value of research beyond traditional sources.


    Another great way high school students are using Twitter connections is in preparing for their careers. Students can talk to professionals who are currently working in the paths they’re thinking about following in their future careers. Some teachers have set up assignments that have students create Twitter lists in which they can follow accounts that are relevant to their career goals.


    Some teachers are helping students improve their research skills by assigning Internet scavenger hunts and only allowing students to use Twitter to find their sources. Students often find this a fun challenge, and a great way to research ideas and movements through Twitter searches.


    Using Twitter, students are able to tweet sources and ask their teacher, fellow classmates, and others that they engage with on Twitter whether it seems to be a credible source or not. This is a great way to teach about the use of online resources and learning about which sources are reliable, and which shouldn’t be trusted.


    Students in foreign language classes are able to use Twitter discussion around the world to learn about foreign languages. They create lists that allow them to follow foreign language news resources, key Twitter personalities, and more. Students are even able to follow foreign language Twitter pen pals that they can interact with.

    20 Ways High Schools Are Using Twitter In The Classroom; This is a cross-post from; Image attribution flickr user hankerstein

Project-Based Learning Technology

23 Ways To Use The iPad In The 21st Century PBL Classroom

23 Ways To Use The iPad In The 21st Century PBL Classroom

by TeachThought Staff

The iPad is not magic, and as many educators have found integrating them meaningfully is by no means a just-add-water proposition.

The same applies to Project-Based Learning.

Project-Based Learning is a method of giving learners access to curriculum in authentic ways that promote collaboration, design, imagination, and innovation while also allowing for more natural integration of digital and social media. Below we’ve offered 23 ways that the iPad can be used in your classroom. While given strategies may or may not fit exactly into your curriculum or grade level, consider them instead as a kind of board of ideas to inspire your own thinking. If “Designing a tire” is beyond the ability of your 4th graders (and you’re certain of that), what else might they design instead? If analyzing narrative design sounds below your college freshman, what might them “consume and design” instead?

Note that the visual is also arranged in a kind of visual spectrum, as our past visuals have been. But this time, rather than being distributed by complexity, it is instead laid out in terms of the kind of workflow a learner might encounter in a 21st century, K-20, project-based learning environment.

Feel free to offer additional ideas in the comments below, via our twitter feed, or our facebook page!

Visit TeachThought PD to grow Project Based Learning with Tech Integration at your school.







Image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad


A Simple Way To Demystify The Writing Process With Simple Technology

Writing as a Process

by Terry Heick

Writing is arduous, difficult work.

Even for those who have chosen writing as a profession, the muse often fails to show and the writer is left with only the process to get them by.

Planning, writing, rethinking, revising, sharing, rewriting, editing, sharing, and reviewing–and perhaps revising some more before taking a deep breath and finally making it public.

The writing process is rivaled only by the scientific method in its stringent and clinical demands. For growing writers, this kind of mechanized approach is juxtaposed by the perception of creative processes as artistic, elegant, and inspired fun.

While writing can absolutely be fun, for novice writers who may not be compelled to write the way established writers more sure of their craft can be, the writing process can be a monster to internalize, and difficult to trust.

Young Writers
But probably the most significant challenge to young writers is not the writing process itself, but rather one step before the process itself: the cause to write.

Young writers can–erroneously–believe they have nothing to say, often due to the formality of the writing process itself. They want to communicate, but the writing process can seem a bit…much.

So it’s no surprise that the five-step process does not come naturally for most learners. So much writing in school is, at its core, academic. Even when the writing is more personal in nature, it is done in journal or diary format–closed-circuit, closed-course, and teacher-centered no matter the design hoping otherwise. It is initiated by the teacher, cultivated by the teacher, peers, and writer themselves usually at the teacher’s behest, evaluated by “helpful” but sometimes confusing rubrics (also created by teachers), and is thus often more important to the teacher than the learners.

In this style of teaching, formal learning processes like those in schools reveal more than they produce–that is, they become a place where learners discover not how to write, but rather whether or not they are strong writers, often in fatalistic or self-defeatist tones (each of which reveal themselves as disinterest and apathy).

Demystifying the Writing Process
Anytime then the writing process can be demystified by learners is critical. While there are ways blogging and social media can encourage this process, perhaps none are more powerful–or more simple–than modeling.

In the gradual release of responsibility model–show me, help me, let me–modeling is the first step. This age-old tradition of “here, let me show you” can resonate for learners in any number of scenarios, often by the visible expression of expertise. The implication is that there is a certain process or form to adhere to, and by showing, learners can pick it up.

By modeling the writing process, a teacher can demonstrate what writing looks like–in all of its uncut, unedited, imperfect glory. This can be done with a number of tech tools, from online word processing suites like Google Docs, to social media platforms like Google+ or even twitter via #hashtags.

Live Modeling: Demonstrating the Reality of the Writing Process
This couldn’t be more simple: Model the writing process live where students can see your inputs and hear your thinking aloud

What bits of the writing process you’re modeling is up to you. You can start with a blank document and write from a single topic, or revise a given piece of your own writing created beforehand. Whatever you do, the idea is to demonstrate the process live. Seeing the birth of ideas–taking thoughts and documenting them with structures like sentence and paragraphs–can be a magical experience, especially for struggling writers who are often asked to write–and given rubrics, feedback, and peer collaborators, but rarely shown how.

Grade Levels: 3-12+    

Duration: 15 minutes    

Content Areas: All    

Materials Necessary: A word processor and a projector (or even a document scanner and a pencil-and-paper) is really all that is required to get started. On the projector where students can see, bring up a blank document–or even one with basic pre-writing–and when the learners are grouped, settled, and clear about expectations, you can get started.

1. Group the students
How you group students for this short activity depends on your classroom management style, the age group, and what grouping strategies they’re accustomed to.

One possibility is to cluster learners into small groups of 5 or fewer, and assign each group something different to “watch for,” and have them create a very simple collaborative concept map as notes.

How often you make corrections–to language use, spelling, syntax, or structure.

How often you combine during drafting–sentences or paragraphs.

What kinds of issues make you stop your drafting, and which do you steamroll right through.

It is important not to “teacher up” this activity. The big idea here is for the students to witness the writing process. Anything you place between them and the writing can be a barrier to them “getting it,” even if you intend otherwise.

2. Pick the right topic
The right topic is going to be something you are familiar with (write what you know), but not something you’re so certain of the writing is entirely effortless and fluid. If you’re nervous about “live writing” in front of your students, practice ahead of time using a topic other than the one you’re going to write about with them.

For it to be most helpful to growing writers, they need to see both expertise and natural uncertainty. This is where the learning happens, and what can make writing more approachable.

3. Think-aloud
As you write, think aloud as if learners are genuinely interested in hearing your thinking–but also as if no one else is around. The thinking aloud isn’t a performance, it’s just a tool to increase transparency–to let the learners into your head. This is crucial to getting “live modeling” right. While some of your thinking will be made visual by what you type, how you revise, when the writing goes fast and when it goes slow, what’s going on “behind the scenes” is just as important.

If you’re using expository writing to teach the writing process (and remember, that is the goal here–using the genre to teach the process, not vice-versa), consider “talking through” the answers to questions such as the following:

  • What are you thinking as you finish that introduction?
  • Why do you go back and fix some errors while you write, and not others?
  • How do you decide when to go to a new a paragraph?
  • How does the absence or presence of pre-writing impact the drafting?
  • How are you using your own uncertainty to affect a certain tone in your writing?
  • How do you keep an audience in mind as you write–how exactly?
  • As you sketch out your conclusion, how is the introduction and the body impacting its design–i.e., what is the relationship between your introduction, your body, and your conclusion?

Don’t worry about the appearance of perfection. Be honest and thorough, and think of the goal: increasing the transparency of how the writing process works, not the abundance/scarcity of your own writing ability.

4. Be brief–then reflect
Using a journal entry or exit slip, ask the students to reflect on what they saw–maybe first on their own, then sharing out in the small groups they’re already in, then something again on an exit slip–perhaps single takeaway, a response to a question, or even an analogy or the creation of a metaphor that expresses how the writing process functioned, or what they might expect to see different with different writers and writing styles.

What You’re Modeling

In the end, by modeling the process of writing you can demystify it in terms of sequence and nuance, and make it artistic and entirely personal–and less mechanical as a result. And by thinking aloud as you model the process, you’re clarifying three important ideas:

1. The Mistakes

Both in scale and frequency, the mistakes made during the writing process are more important than what you get right. Each of these miniature “fails” exhibit for growing writers the inevitability of mistakes–and ultimately what’s possible when you lean on the process instead of some vague notion of “excellence.”

2. The Thinking

Careful thinking has a tone of uncertainty to it–not being quite sure about an idea, and using the process of writing to better understand what it is that you actually believe. Pre-writing can help set the need to write, while revision will always be there to go back and untangle the knots, and editing will help prep the presentation.

3. The Vulnerability

The inherent vulnerability of self-expression–and how the courage of publishing (often) can erase those fears.

The impact of this lesson will be both short and long-term. You should almost immediately see evidence from the modeling show in discussion or writing. Younger students may tend to “over-mimic” what they saw, while older high school and college students might initially express very little in terms of immediate effect. However, long-term, it is important for writers to be privy to the way others move through the thinking process, especially experts like teachers. The more direct that access is, the stronger the potential impact.

The writing process is not a “English-Language Arts” thing. It’s not a “Composition” thing. It’s a “thinking” thing, and should be modeled across content areas, but teachers from STEM to Arts & Humanities, or else risk seeming artificial, and losing crucial credibility with learners.

And technology can be used to broadcast, record, and curate thinking for a larger set of learners across content areas, grade levels, and even eLearning domains.

In part 2 of this 3-part series, we’ll look at how Online Word Processing suites like Google Docs can be used to further teach the writing process.

This article was originally written by Terry Heick for Edudemic Magazine.