Just Write! Frequently and Quickly

Over my winter break this year, I decided to take time to study some literacy research. This may not sound thrilling to everyone, but I love digging in to this stuff! While occasionally looking over my computer screen at the Gulf of Mexico, I spent some time getting reacquainted with a great 2012 publication called the Just Write! Guide from Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL). I had forgotten what a treasure trove of research-based writing instructional strategies are included in this document. So much of the material validates amazing writing instruction happening in our Minnesota ABE classrooms. I hope to highlight some of the golden nuggets of the Just Write! Guide in upcoming articles.

This publication is the result of two years of careful identification of research-based instructional strategies in writing combined with the professional wisdom of ABE teachers from around the country. In addition, the major strategies presented in Just Write! have been field tested with ABE learners.

The rationale presented for strengthening existing writing instruction in our ABE classrooms is familiar:

  • to decrease the need for developmental education courses in college
  • to meet increasing writing demands in the workplace (even entry-level jobs!)
  • to address the significantly increased writing expectations in the College and Career Readiness Standards for ABE learners

Some of the major instructional recommendations Just Write! gives are to:

  • focus significant time on the steps of the writing process including independent student work and collaborative work with the writing process
  • use explicit instruction with written models
  • integrate grammar into writing instruction rather than teach it separately
  • give learners a variety of opportunities to write daily

One of the daily writing opportunities is a strategy you may already use with your learners: quickwrites (sometimes called freewrites). Just Write! defines quickwrites as “A method of having learners put down their thoughts without stopping for grammar, spelling, punctuation, or even organizing thoughts before writing. Learners think for one minute and write nonstop for two to three minutes about a specified topic.” I love to use quickwrites as a prewriting activity, but there is a myriad of meaningful ways to use them with learners.

Following is a list of ways to incorporate quickwrites into your lessons:

  1. A quickwrite summary after reading text—writing about what was read improves reading ability.
  2. A quickwrite with a given topic pre- or post-activity as formative assessment.
  3. A quickwrite as a Write-Pair-Share activity where learners consider response to a prompt, text, lecture, etc., and then share written reflections.
  4. A quickwrite as an Entry or Exit Card. Learners enter class and respond to a displayed prompt related to the day’s lesson topic (Entry) or briefly write about what they learned or about a prediction for what may follow (Exit).
  5. A quickwrite as a check-in for learner understanding about new vocabulary or concepts.
  6. A quickwrite to record a prediction, conclusion or hypothesis during reading.
  7. A quickwrite for learner reflection on task, goal or outcome accomplishments and challenges.
  8. A quickwrite guided by an academic sentence starter.

Quickwrites can be done before, during and after reading and can be motivational and low-stress for even nonwriters. Everyone, including the instructor takes part, and the writing is nongraded and informal. The quickwrite strategy is a way to embed writing practice throughout a lesson, unit or course.

I encourage you to take a look at the Just Write! Guide for more instructional suggestions for writing and watch this space for additional details from this incredibly helpful resource.

Kristine Kelly, Literacy & ELA Coordinator ATLAS