Monday, February 19, 2007

Our best writing exercise

By Lesley Woodward, MA, M.Ed.IELP, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio USA

This is a writing exercise which has always been popular in my classes.

Ask students to sit in a circle (if possible) and take out a few sheets of paper. Legal size paper is ideal. Talk with them about thinking of a question which they truly want the answer to. It has to be a serious, thoughtful question and I give examples of what kinds of questions NOT to write down such as, "Do you think it will rain?", Will I pass this course?", etc. The teacher must impress upon the students the need for serious questions, and that the question and answers will be anonymous.

After allowing thinking time, tell the students to write down their questions at the top of the paper. This is all done without any student/student discussions. Tell the students, and keep on reminding them, NOT to put their names anywhere on the paper. The teacher should also write down a question (I usually ask for opinions/suggestions about the class).

Tell them to draw a circle around their question. Ask them to pass their paper to the right, read the question, and write a thoughtful, serious answer to the circled question below it. Depending on the size of the class, allow about 2 minutes for writing, then pass the papers to the right again and the next student responds below the first response. Be sure that the students wait for the teacher's instruction to pass the papers. Continue until the teacher receives her/his own paper back. No student talking during this exercise.

Allow time for the students to read all the responses to their questions. Any students who want to may share their question and some responses if there is time.

The teacher must plan the time carefully. This exercise works best in intensive classes which are 2 to 3 hours long so there is no hurry. The number of students dictates the length of time given for the written responses. It all takes longer than you might think.

I have heard some very penetrating questions and deeply thoughtful responses during this exercise and many students have told me that it was the best class of the term!

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