Students have 15 minutes to write a response, record a memory, write the first paragraph of a story that begins with a squashed sandwich…
How many have managed more than four sentences? Cue head in hands.
Shuffling, sniffing, staring, sighing…peeking at cellphones? They nailed that stuff!
My father (a teaching legend) taught me to begin lessons with a ‘Daily Dash’. That was…errr…years ago, but, with abilities in literacy plummeting, this fun strategy is a perfect way to develop writing skills. With the Daily Dash, students harness two writing skills:
Writing with speed (and that includes thinking of things to write about), and eventually,
Writing with accuracy.
Prepare to wallow in the simplicity of this strategy…
Before/as students arrive, a topic is written on the board (tip: let the first student to arrive choose the topic). It can be as silly as you like:
Goats in my bedroom
The wart on my nose
Compulsory wear-a-tutu day…
Students are given 3-5 minutes to write about the topic in as many words as they can. (I like three minutes for Years 9 and 10, five minutes for Years 11-13.) It can be as silly or as serious as they like. Make a big palaver of beginning the stopwatch and ‘ready-steady-GO’. Make this a race!
Once time’s up, students count their words and write the number underneath.
It sounds odd, but this next step is crucial to improving writing skills. Students graph their results. (Find a free graph here to print and have students glue into the back of their books.) This inspires competition between peers and with themselves as the days pass and the graphing progresses. Think of it as gamifying writing!
What have your students learned here?
That they can think fast!
That they can write plenty of words in a short space of time.
That they don’t need to be afraid of a blank page.
Every now and again, it’s a clever idea to say, “you know this is a technique you could apply for the serious stuff too – give yourself 15 minutes to write as many words as you can. It’s a whole lot easier to later edit something that’s there than stare at a blank page for three days as the deadline for your final piece looms closer!
By now, page paralysis is cured! They get it. Ultimately though, you want students to write with accuracy. Happy days, the Daily Dash is a winner here too.
So, now have students proofread their work. Remember, you’ve got to train them to read aloud – slowly, and with expression (aka prosody) – so they can hear their sentence structures and where punctuation should sit. If you like, get students to swap books to peer-check instead. They should use a red pen so that they can easily see the issues, and also so that we can have a bit of a laugh about being loud and proud about our mistakes. They’re not something to be embarrassed about! We’re learning for goodness’ sake! (Oh, also, that ‘don’t use a red pen because it’s abrasive, offensive, hurtful argument that went around a few years ago? What a load of rubbish. Students like the red pen because they can SEE it.)
Students then count the number of mistakes and write this number at the bottom of the page too.
Here, now, is where you brag about your cross-curricular classroom (yes, I’m joking) as students divide the number of words by the number of mistakes. So, in three minutes a student wrote 28 words, however, made 5 mistakes. 28/5 = …calculator…5.6! Now, the student can graph that. Obviously, when looking at these results, the LOWER the bar, the better!
Make writing a RACE. Make it fun.
Get students to graph their results – they enjoy beating their own times and comparing graphs with mates.
Create a sub-conscious buzz about how, “oh yeah! Page paralysis is no longer a thing for us!”
Students (okay, ‘some’ students) race to class to get to be the one to write a topic on the board. (Yep, there's an occasional need to adjust choices for a PG rating!)
Students sit, settle, and get their books and pens out quickly because they know the race is about to begin. This is an excellent lesson starter / bell-ringer strategy.
I tried using fun classroom timers on my screen, but students kept looking up at that and squealing about it so – note well – these are just a distraction for this type of activity! Use your watch or the timer on your phone instead.
This would be a fantastic revision activity for seniors. Instead of writing about any old topic, have them write about something to do with their recent text study.
Want to enhance critical thinking skills? Use a topic that's controversial or about a key idea explored in one of the class's studied texts.
Treat students' 'dashes' as banks of writing possibilities to return to later for developing into crafted pieces.
Swoon! Such a multi-faceted strategy!
What about reading?
If you're on a literacy drive and want help with reading, try: