Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.25.17A Front the Writing Discussion Template (And the Feedback We Got On It)

At our recent Ratio workshop in London we shared this sample page from a  student work packet.  It’s designed to help structure a student discussion about a text, though it could be adapted to any content. The idea is that it asks students to write a response to a discussion question before they discuss it.  Then it asks them to take notes on the discussion in order to revise and improve their original idea.  Then it asks students to revise their original response based on what they took from the discussion.

We think this is useful in building high Ratio classrooms–everyone answers the question in writing first. Thus students are more likely to participate in the discussion and are likely to have better ideas. Then their task during discussion is not to try to ‘win” the discussion by being proven “right” all along but to gather ideas that can help them refine their ideas. Then they finish the cycle by writing again.

We presented this to participants and asked for their feedback.  What did they like and what might they adapt or improve about it.

Below you’ll find the example template we gave people. Below that you’ll see some of the useful feedback our participants gave us.

Change the first question from What does the figurative language in the first and second stanza tell us about the flowers? to What does the figurative language in the first and second stanza tell you about the flowers? but keep it as What does the figurative language in the first and second stanza tell us about the flowers? on the second write.  Thus the first write emphasizes personal response and the second emphasizes understanding and including aspects of the group’s response in the answer.

The teacher should make sure to model the process of taking notes in the discussion tracker on the board.

Participants appreciated that the number of lines given for the response was the same on the second write as the first. They felt that the message was: I don’t want you to write more. I want you to write better.

The discussion box could be further divided into sections for general notes, things I want to add to my answer and/or useful terms and phrases.

Participants suggested adding a pre-writing step that used retrieval practice (e.g. “What’s a metaphor? Give an example, or ‘What are the features you’ll discuss?’ to activate background knowledge.

Participants suggested adding a box with technical terminology, especially for types of figurative language so students can use technical vocabulary more easily in their writing.


5 Responses to “A Front the Writing Discussion Template (And the Feedback We Got On It)”

  1. Leanne Riordan
    October 26, 2017 at 1:26 am

    This is great. The prewriting idea to activate academic background knowledge is an excellent idea.

    Another option for the discussion box is to divide in two parts: ideas that support or extend my response, and ideas that contrast or differ from my response.

    • Doug Lemov
      October 26, 2017 at 1:34 am

      Best adaptation yet. Thanks, Leanne!

  2. Dale Zawertailo
    October 29, 2017 at 3:28 am

    Great idea to get students thinking and writing on their own before considering/ relying on thinking of other students.

  3. Brian North
    May 3, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    That’s really great idea, and it’s really sad that my university did not use such interesting things in education their students. Our teachers just compelled us to wrote a lot boring essays on a varied topics, because of that we didn’t have any free time and that’s why a half of my classmates began to use writing services to do assignments online . Because of huge amount of homework we just lost an interest to studying. But i think if we had the same ideas in our studying that written in this article, we couldn’t lost it.
    Thank you for sharing this type of interesting and useful information for students!

    • Doug Lemov
      May 4, 2018 at 5:31 pm

      thanks for your comment! great to hear the student perspective.

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