Quick-writes to bring it all back to you

(In case the headline doesn’t bring it all back to you, here’s the song that’s currently playing in my head that inspired it)

Quick-writes, a cousin to free-writes, is a strategy that gives students a chance to dive back into an idea after a long break, bring forward ideas from the previous night’s reading, or offer a pause to a lull in the conversation — among several other things. Unlike free writing, quick writing is about responding to learning rather than what I like to call “a brain dump.” Quick writing is easily used as entrance or exit slips for class.

These are informal writing pieces, and students should be VERY aware of that. The informal focus makes students feel more comfortable being loose with their words (and grammar).

Make sure you identify the overall purpose and function:

  • Time parameters (minimum one minute, no longer than four minutes)
  • Write immediately and don’t stop
  • It is about expression

You want to make sure to make it clear before the students respond to the prompt if they will be sharing it out loud, hand in just to you, or something they will keep for themselves–like a learning log. The level of privacy can dictate how the students’ comfort in their response.

You’ll want to give students a prompt. Instead of something more creative, the prompt should directly focus on what the students learned, the learning process, or future learning needs based on what you just encountered. These can be:

  • A quote to respond to or talk through
  • A specific learning target or objective
  • A demonstration or a sample
  • A former reflection

I like to pick a random “old” song as the timer. This isn’t a mandatory addition, but it does give students a little pep to their writing step. (keep in mind, I’m also the person who used to do “senior sing-a-long” with my high schoolers where if they were feeling low energy, we would turn on a ballad and belt it out together–like “My Heart Will Go On“). The random song also gives a little more time uncertainty (I tell them a ballpark time), which I have found gives students a jolt to get writing.

If you are doing this for the first time, or if students struggle with “starting” the process, it may help to give sentence stems to guide their responses. Here are some examples (The book They Say, I Say is a wealth of examples for this_:

  • “I think that…”
  • “What seems important is…”
  • “This remind me of…”
  • “I felt that I…”
  • “I remember when…”
  • “I struggled to do…”
  • “I learned that…”

Another way a quick write can be used beyond reflecting on learning is by building vocabulary. If you teach a course with higher-level concepts, you may ask students to do a quick write that responds to a prompt like “Write down what comes to mind when you hear the word _______.” Or, you can ask students to provide a definition of the word. This can serve as a jumping-off point to interrogate the term, talk about how students arrived at these definitions, and then discuss what it means in the context of your course. Postmodernists, I’m looking at you!

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