The English Classroom

A GUIDE TO IMPROVING STUDENT LITERACY

The Situation

You want your students to write under timed conditions.

The Solution

Eventually, students need to sit exams. It is a sad, sad true, but one they will need to face eventually. Writing is not just a mental skill, but a physical skill. It requires the capacity to focus for long periods of time and to have the hand muscle capable of writing nonstop. Some exams can be 3 hours long. Even worse, some universities schedule two of these exams per day: in the morning and afternoon.

To develop the skill to write this long, teachers need to set parameters early on in the development of writing.

Weekly timed writing is a fantastic tool to use in the classroom to get students comfortable with writing unseen prompts.

Here is what you do:

  1. Set the timer on a screen in your classroom, something visual, for five minutes. Inform students that they will write in silence on a topic that you provide.
  2. Provide students with response: “Imagine you discover a time machine. You go inside and its take you to a long time ago. What do you experience?” (There are many prompts that you can provide students).
  3. Give students the allocated time to complete their writing. Reinforce that there is no right or wrong answer – it is about practising the art of writing.
  4. As a class, you can discuss responses, or they can work in pairs and through a cooperative activity.

For students in year 7 start with five minutes, but steadily increase the time by one minute every couple of lessons. Just be mindful that as you increase the time of writing, the prompt that you use must be open enough to allow students to write for that length of time.

As you can see, it isn’t about giving students 30 minutes to write in silence. This is incredibly daunting, especially unprompted. It is about short, sharp responses that allow students to practise on command. From there, you can start getting students mentally ready for longer exam parameters.

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