“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
Brief, focused writing activities are suitable for including in each day’s activities for students in any grade during this time of containment and concern about learning progress, to get ‘Thingish’ Things out in the open.
Writing is one of the most useful, portable, convenient, any-place-will-do components of meaning-making activities to encourage. The benefits of regular, everyday writing are many, requiring organising ideas and putting them down so they make sense, and attending to grammatical structures in order to do this.
Generally, Writing is … an increasingly important way of connecting with family and friends through texting, blogging and social media, (Calkins & Ehrenworth 2016, and Gadd 2017, cited in Daffern & Mackenzie Ch.1 p.2). We can acknowledge the importance of writing during times of stress, lockdown and/or learning at home rather than at school.
In order really to live, we make up stories about ourselves and others, about the personal as well as the social past and future.
Barbara Hardy, in The Cool Web, quoted in Gleeson, Writing like a Writer
‘Quickwrite’ is a classic classroom activity that can encourage reluctant writers to take risks with their writing, freeing up the process and removing the need for a finished, polished product. It is where teachers can ‘support a rehearsal process’ (Teachers Toolkit for Literacy). It is also known as ‘Write Right Now’.
This website includes ideas for prompts, some guides for supporting students, and links to other resources.
Frequent opportunities to write help to build the skills required for the more focused learning required for each Stage.
Short informal writing tasks can help students express their thoughts of the moment. There is no need for pro-formas or worksheets, as it is more effective if students record their thinking directly, either digitally or on paper. The task can be as brief as five minutes of class time, and can extend several times a day, or follow on over a week or so.
Don’t mark this writing. Its purpose is to get the ideas, the thinking, down on the page; it is informal. Students will naturally edit and self-correct as they read and re-read, and share their ideas with others. If students decide to refine their notes into a more formal piece of work, they can request ask for assistance.
The usual writing activities that are prepared and presented in the classroom are considered and appropriate for curriculum and English syllabus outcomes. There is a measurable product, with a marking rubric. This is challenging enough for many students working with teacher support; working in the home environment, can be even more so.
Short, focused writing activities can assist here. This is the rehearsing of writing. To get those ‘Thingish Things’ out into the open where our students can look at them, and share if they want to.
Some guidelines for encouragement:
- These are not ends in themselves but help to free up the writing process, to develop a relaxed approach to the physical act of writing.
- Pictures, drawings and diagrams are ok to be included, as illustrations of the writing.
- Encourage talk around the writing.
- Students’ can write in their first language, if that is preferred. This is about ideas.
- Connect the writing task to a specific syllabus outcome in your own planning.
- Encourage students to use their senses in their writing – whet they see, what they can hear, how things feel to the touch, how they taste and smell.
- Ideas and incomplete sentences are fine; students will follow up if they want to.
Ideas for writing can be taken from current topical issues such as:
- Climate change: Teaching the Language of Climate Change Science (Hayes & Parkin 2021) has lesson plans and ideas for pre-school to Year 8 students, with authentic, credible resources.
- Migration: Waves, written by Donna Rawlins and illustrated by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson, shows migration to Australia from over 50,000 years ago, to the present. The stories are of the children’s lives as they travel to Australia.
- Narrative and factual texts: Sue Whiting and Mark Jackson’s ‘Platypus’ show how the two look side-by-side. Students can write a factual description of their lunch, and an imaginative narrative involving the same lunch.
Some reasons for writing. You might use each of these as starting points for Quickwrites.
- To tell a story
- To unmask an injustice or cruelty
- To hold up a mirror
- To show a journey of change
- To describe a way of life
- To describe a place
- To enjoy humour and be playful
- To imagine the future
- To process pain and bring healing
- To join in a community of ideas and writing
- To say, ‘Here I am!’ ‘This is me!’
- To reveal a truth
- To show a relationship
- To piece clues together
- To reveal oneself
- To connect with others
- To explore current pressing issues
- To encourage reflection and critical thinking
- To create – to bring new worlds into being
- To show inner and outer life at the same time
- To explore mysteries
- To enjoy a moment
Why do we write?
Writing allows ideas to be shared and adapted across space and time, (and has given humans new ways of thinking and learning.
Daffern & Mackenzie 2020 p.2
Hayes, J. & Parkin, B. (2021) Teaching the Language of Climate Change Science Newtown: PETAA
PETAA has a page of online resources available and suitable. I like the look of Glogster for students to explore. This could be a way of developing those writing ideas
Rawlins, D. (2018) Waves, illustrations Potter, H. & Jackson, Newtown: Walker Books Australia
Reading Australia – units if work based on texts, lots of stimulus for writing short reflective or descriptive pieces at https://readingaustralia.com.au/
Teachers Toolkit for Literacy – https://the-teachers-tool-kit-for-literacy.simplecast.com/episodes/quick-writes-for-quick-results?mc_cid=d00674b4b3&mc_eid=0db0d366dc accessed 22/7/2021
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, illustrated by E.H. Shepherd. Disney has made numerous cartoonns, but the original illustrations have an appealing charm. Available in all good bookshops.
Christopher Robin Movie 2018 – an extension of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories by A.A.Milne, with animation of stuffed animals. Disney
Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie 2017 – background to A.A. Milne’s family, and the genesis of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. No animation. Disney
https://www.readwritethink.org/collections/primary-sources scroll down to ‘Strategies’ – developing and using I-Charts is a strategy that can be broken into its components to take students through a thorough research process.
Daffern, T. & Mackenzie, N. (2020) Teaching Writing – Effective approaches for the middle years Australia: Allen & Unwin
Gleeson, L., (2007) Writing like a Writer, Newtown Australia: Primary English Teaching Association