One of the my favorite active learning strategies is the write-around. It’s quick and easy to use, and it is perfect for building the skills that students need for analysis. Let me show you how and why it works.
Start with an open-ended question
A successful write-around starts with a question that can be explored from different angles and with multiple pieces of evidence from the text. This is because you need something that will allow students to add more examples to what the first students wrote about – or to refute it.
For example, you could ask some of the following:
“What is the purpose of this section of text?”
“Record the most important elements of this chapter”
“How does a certain character develop in this section?”
“Why does the author do this?”
And, before you start the process, it helps to put your students in groups of four and write those names on the board or overhead. (I’ll explain what to do if you have some threes in the procedure below).
Procedure for the write-around
Give each student a copy with the question posed at the top of the page. You can print one off like the one in the photo above, or just have the students write down the question on their own paper.
Each student will write their name on the top of the page and then their answer to the question. Encourage them to write in sentences, not bullets, so the next student can follow their thought process. Also, tell them that you want them to try to use as many examples or specific references to text to support the point they are making.
You will set a timer and tell them they will write until it goes (I like two minutes for the first one, but younger students may need a little more time). Once you get past the one minute mark, call out encouragement for them to keep pushing their ideas.
Once the timer goes, ask them to pass their sheet to the next person in their group (it helps to have that list on the board. Or just tell them to pass clockwise). The next person will write their name and then they will either:
- Extend what the previous writer wrote with more examples
- Refute what they said – and back up with examples
- Start writing about a new point in relation to the question
Students will need some time to read what their group mate wrote, so add 20-30 seconds to your timer to allow for this. Repeat the whole process two more times, until each student in the group has written on the page. You may need to allow more time for reading each time.
You will need to remind students that they need to read what’s on the page so they can continue to add new information. This may get harder as each new student writes, so encourage them to push their ideas.
If you have a group of three, the first writer will also be the fourth writer and will add more after reading what has been added after their original section. With two groups of three, the third writers in each group will exchange papers.
When you finish the write-around:
Once each person in the group has written on the page, they need to give it back to the original writer.
Instruct students to read over what has been added to the page, and to underline or highlight good points made and ideas they think need further discussion or more evidence for support.
You can leave it at this and move on to your next activity, or get the students to continue their discussion verbally. And, you can ask students to pass the sheets in, so you can get an idea of each student’s understanding of the text.
Write-arounds require all students to take part in the “discussion”
I love group discussions, but not all students fully engage, regardless of how much work I put into encouraging them to. This could be due to a lack of preparation, a lack of confidence, and/or a preference for sitting back and listening. While the latter is ok, it doesn’t always help those more introverted students to build the skills they need for writing about text.
However, with a write-around, each student needs to add their thoughts and ideas about the text. This can allow students who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a group the chance to contribute. And, it gives the silent observers the chance to practice the skills they may not be building when they just sit back and listen.
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Write-arounds help students build the skill of fully supporting ideas
Another reason that I love write-arounds is that they push students to add more detail to an idea. Because they are supposed to add new ideas to the page, they need to do some critical thinking about new details or examples they can add to what someone else has already written.
Even if they decide to refute what one of their classmates wrote, they need to come up with evidence to support this. Either way, they need to think – which is always a good thing.
The first time you do this, students may struggle to come up with evidence, but hopefully with practice, they will get more adept at doing so.
Write-arounds offer a great opportunity for formative assessment
If you have students pass their sheets in you can quickly see who “gets it” and who doesn’t. You won’t be trying to assess the language they used, just their ideas, so it takes very little time to read over the work.
However, the information you glean from each sheet will tell you which group of students needs to be redirected. If they were all writing about a character in a way that showed misunderstanding, for example, you can sit with them and lead them in a different direction.
The students’ work can also help you plan where you need to go next with your instruction. For example, f you feel like they all missed an important element, you will know you need to review that.
More active learning strategies:
The write-around is a very easy to implement active learning strategy. If you want more of these, check out these blog posts:
👉🏻 You can find templates for write-arounds (and lots of other activities) in Higher Order Thinking Activities for Any Text
👉🏻 And, you can access a collection of my all-time favorite activies here: Active Learning Exercises for Reading & Writing