Have students reflect on their understanding of a topic. Get students thinking about the lession that is about to occur. Have students re-cap an activity.
Decide when you will use a Quick Write during your lesson
Use it before your teaching in order to:
Activate and assess students’ prior knowledge
Get students involved in the beginning
Use it during your teaching in order to:
Encourage critical thinking
Use it after your teaching in order to:
Promote reflection about key concepts
Reveal the problems students have encountered
Check whether students understand the concepts or like the lesson.
Prepare a question or promt
Promts can have a variety of goals such as: Summarize the knowledge learned. Explain concepts or vocabulary. Form predictions, inferences, or hypotheses. Engage in analysis or arguments. Or students can generate their own questions and prompts!
Introduce the activity
Tell students they will be writing freely and tell them how much time they will have
Assign the topic
Sample script: Now I want each one of you to spend a couple of minutes on your own thinking and writing about . You will have to jot down whatever comes to your minds. You don’t need to worry too much about grammar or phrasing; just feel free to write down anything you come up with.
Students can also do a group write
Use it in subsequent instruction, discussion, or assessment
Use this activity as part of a Think-Pair-Share, or Write-Pair-Share activity, where students share, compare, and discuss their responses with each other
Use this activity as an informal assessment of students’ learning. Identify weaknesses in their understanding, and make clarification in your subsequent teaching
When necessary, collect the responses for deeper understanding and assessment of students’ learning, their attitudes towards the class, and the problems they encounter
Writing has long been recognized as a powerful tool for learning (Rivard, 1994). While traditional writing focuses on students’ abilities to express ideas with correct language usage, the “Quick Write” is an instructional approach that activates students’ knowledge and presents new material. It can be used in a broader range of disciplines (Fisher & Frey, 2008).
A quick write is a “brief written response to a question or probe” that requires students to rapidly explain or comment on an assigned topic (Green, Smith & Brown, 2007; Nunan, 2003). Quick Write can be used at the beginning, middle, or end of the class (Mason, Benedek-Wood & Valasa, 2009). Instructors may give a prompt or pose a question and give students several minutes to form a written response, either as a review or synthesis of learned materials or as preparation for new content. If placed at the end of class, Quick Writes may involve students writing about what they learned, what problems they encountered, what they liked or disliked about the lesson, and whether they understood the concepts (Literacy & Learning, n.d.).
Also called Write Now (Riller, Zambo, Cleland & Ryan, 1996), a Quick Write is often followed by students sharing their writing orally (Cleland, Rillero & Zambo, 2003). It can serve as a basis for more collaborative learning activities, such as student-led discussions (University Writing Council, 2011), or Pair-and-Shares (Guillaume et al., 2007). Some “off-shoots” have been developed, including “One-Minute Paper”, or admit/exit slips (Brozo & Simpson, 2003).
Quick Writes are a nimble instructional tool applied across classrooms and subjects, ranging from economics (Crowe & Youga, 1986) to psychology (Butler, Phillmann & Smart, 2001) to nursing and child development (Ward, 2013). Although more extensively used and studied in elementary and secondary education, it has been proved as an easily implemented and adaptable strategy that can be integrated across classrooms and contents (Readance, Moore & Rickelman, 2001; Mason, Benedek-Wood & Valasa, 2009).
Quick Writes present a more acceptable way to use writing as an instructional tool. Research has long supported writing as an instrument to facilitate learning (Deshler, Palincsar, Biancarosa & Nair, 2007) as it enhances conceptual understanding (Abell, 1992) by asking students to “pay closer attention to details, organize data more logically, and structure the arguments in a more coherent way” (Kober, 1993, p. 45). In reality, however, students have reported dread or hatred for writing because they have yet to develop confidence and competence as college writers (Ward, 2013). Quick Writes differs from traditional writing as students can let their thoughts flow freely without focusing on correctness and revision (Tompkins, 1994). It presents writing as a non-threatening and informal opportunity for students to express their thoughts (Fisher & Frey, 2008).
Because of these benefits, a Quick Write can serve as an opening of a class for students to connect previous knowledge to new learning (Cleland, Rillero & Zambo, 2003). It can also be used to promote reflection and recall of learned concepts, summary of content, and expression of thoughts before oral presentation to others (Mason, Benedek-Wood & Valasa, 2009; University Writing Council, 2011). It provides a timesaving form of writing practice for students to become clear and fluent thinkers and writers (Ward, 2013).
As a result, Quick Write can be used to promote critical thinking (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991) and communication skills (Kober, 1993). It has also been found to especially benefit low-achieving students (Mason, Benedek-Wood & Valasa, 2009) because teachers can detect gaps in student understanding for remediation (Green, Smith & Brown, 2007).
This benefit links to another popular usage of Quick Writes as an assessment tool. In science classes in particular, Quick Write has become an instrument of formative assessment to obtain information for instructional modification and to gauge improvement in student understanding (Bass, 2003). As students are given more flexibility in their response, the frustration that accompanies traditional tests can also be eliminated (Green, Smith & Brown, 2007).
Written by Danxi Shen, Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education
Abell, S. (1992). Helping science methods students construct meaning from text. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 3(1), 11-15.
Bass, K. M. (2003). Monitoring understanding in elementary hands-on science through short writing exercises. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.
Brozo, W.G., & Simpson, M.L. (2003). Writing as a tool for active learning. In Readers, teachers, learners: Expanding literacy across the content areas (4th ed.; pp. 253-302). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Butler, A., Phillmann, K. B., & Smart, L. (2001). Active learning within a lecture: Assessing the impact of short, in-class writing exercises. Teaching of Psychology, 28(4), 257-259.
Cleland, J., Rillero, P., & Zambo, R. (2003). Effective prompts for quick writes in science and mathematics. Electronic Journal of Literacy through Science, 7(2).
Crowe, D., & Youga, J. (1986). Using writing as a tool for learning economics. Journal of Economic Education, 218-222.
Deshler, D., Palincsar, A.S., Biancarosa, G., & Nair, M. (2007). Informed choices for struggling adolescent readers: A research-based guide to instructional programs and practices. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Content area strategies at work (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Green, S. K., Smith III, J., & Brown, E. K. (2007). Using Quick Writes as a Classroom Assessment Tool: Prospects and Problems. Journal of Educational Research & Policy Studies, 7(2), 38-52.
Guillaume, Adrea M. (2007). 50 Strategies for Active Teaching. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kober, N. (1993). EDTALK: What we know about science teaching and learning. Washington, DC: Council for Educational Development and Improvement.
Rief, L. (2002). Quick-Writes: Leads to Literacy. Voices from the Middle, 10(1), 50-51.
Below we have annotated lesson plans for selected examplary activities from our database that highlight various ways to incorporate quick writes into the classroom.
(1) Reasoning to the Best Explanation: Students are asked to write down a weird or random fact about themselves on a sticky note and to pass it to the person to their left. Each student is then asked to brainstorm logically possible explanations of the fact he or she has received. Through this activity, students learn to distinguish the best or most likely explanations from all the logically possible ones. Find the original activity in our database here.