Writing-to-Learn Activities

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Writing-to-learn activities are generally classified as brief, informal writing assignments designed to help a student review and process course material. This lesson provides teachers with writing-to-learn activities that can be used in the classroom.

Writing-to-Learn Activities

One of the primary advantages of writing-to-learn activities is their flexibility. Firstly, they can be adapted for use with any academic subject. Secondly, because they are typically short and impromptu, they can be completed without much preparation, or significant time requirements. Finally, these activities create opportunities for both self-reflection and group cooperation.

Free Writing

Free writing is a versatile activity that can be used with any subject at any time. When students free write, they should not be concerned with the mechanics of writing, or even if the writing will be comprehensible to another person. The goal is to put ideas on paper without filtering or editing ideas. Here are a few ways to use free writing in your classroom as a write-to-learn activity.

  • At the beginning of a course, students free write about their learning expectations.
  • At either the beginning or end of a class, students can free write about what they have learned or what they expect to learn next time.
  • At the end of a course, give students the opportunity to free write about what elements of the class have been most beneficial.

It's important to limit the free writing to five minutes and to assure students that their writing will not be collected or assessed.

Shared Summaries

At the end of a chapter or unit, each student writes a short summary to highlight the key points he or she feels were most important, or relevant.

  • After the summaries are written, put students into small groups and have them exchange summaries and discuss.
  • During the discussions, teams should compile a master list based on the most common points.
  • If possible, have teams compare their final lists and then lead a class discussion about which items were commonly highlighted and which were deemed less important or ignored.

Answers for Questions

This activity encourages overall content comprehension and also serves as a way for students to quiz each other.

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