Writing. Every teacher will acknowledge its importance in education. As I visit schools across the country, teachers often share the challenge of teaching writing across the curriculum—especially in mathematics, science, social studies, the arts, and other content areas—and often lament the quality of writing that students are producing.

One way you can increase the amount of writing that students do in the classroom is through quick-writes. The idea here is to increase the amount of writing that students are doing throughout the day. Quick-writes can be done on any topic. Consider the questions you ask your students on a daily basis. Any of the questions you ask could potentially become a quick-write!

Why

Quick-writes build fluency in writing and over time improve the quality of written text. Through low-stakes writing practice, students get used to getting words on paper. You can also use these quick-writes as an assessment tool. Depending on the type of question asked, you can determine students’ background knowledge and experiences, level of understanding of a topic about to be taught, being taught, or previously taught.

When

Quick-writes can be done at any time throughout the instructional period. Two terrific times to conduct quick-writes are at the beginning of class and at the end of class. For example, as students are walking in, or during a transition from one subject to another, have a prompt posted somewhere, or briefly explain the prompt to students. Consider developing a routine so that students know what is expected of them. End of class quick-writes are beneficial as an exit slip to wrap-up what has been taught or preview what is to come.

What

Any question can potentially be a quick-write. Questions that ask students about their prior experiences or questions that get students thinking about their own personal opinions can be helpful. Additionally, questions that help students review or recall content are very beneficial. More and more research is focusing on the power of frequent, low-stakes quizzing as a way to help solidify concepts and develop deeper understanding and longer term retention of concepts and skills.

Sample Quick-Write Starters:

  • Write about a time when/where…(you felt, you or someone you know experienced, etc.)
  • What do you think will happen…
  • How might you have reacted…
  • What were three important aspects of…
  • Define (insert vocabulary word) in your own words.
  • Summarize three (or two, etc.) main takeaways from…
  • Explain ______ (a topic, event, process, etc.) to someone who has never heard about it.

How

As mentioned earlier, students should become familiar with the expectations of a quick-write. Expectations should include writing their names and potentially the date on the top of their paper, as well as the amount of writing that should be done. One way to set an expectation is to have students write non-stop for a set amount of time. Begin with short timeframes, such as 45 seconds or a minute and a half, for example, depending on the grade and skill level of the students. For younger students or reluctant writers, starting with a quick-sketch can also be beneficial, then have the students label the sketch, add phrases, and eventually add sentences.

Grading

Quick-writes should not be high stakes; students should receive credit for meeting the writing expectation and for writing on topic. The easiest way to not be overburdened by the additional papers to correct is to just do a quick skim of each student’s work. Look for trends in terms of understanding or lack thereof. You may also see specific skills that need to be addressed in terms of spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Rather than marking and correcting these on the quick-write, use this information to teach students these skills during other lessons.

As students begin writing on a daily or near daily basis, their ease and fluency in writing will improve. This does not take away the need for additional, explicit writing instruction, but writing certainly can be used by students throughout the day as a way to show what they are thinking and learning in the content areas.