Interactivity in Writing

By Alex Case
Exciting ways to make writing interactive

1. Working on different aspects of a joint project
For example, the whole class works on different articles to go on the front page of a newspaper, with an editorial team deciding which story should go at the top, giving feedback on length to make sure it all fits etc.

2. Putting lots of sources together
This is similar to the idea above, but involves making a single piece of writing from lots of different sources that different people bring to the table.

3. Cut it up and match
This is one of many typical textbook reading tasks that can be done with student writing as long as you make sure that people aren’t working on their own texts. In this case, this is the typical mixed up paragraphs exercise (in its cut up, more dynamic version). This can be done with the text of one student (if they only need to put the paragraphs back into order), or with the texts of a few students (if you want them to divide them up and then put them into order). Please note that the multiple text version won’t work if the texts are handwritten.

4. Read and work out if true or false
This is another textbook task that can be adapted to make reading the other students’ texts more interesting and interactive. This can be organised by telling students they can make up any facts and figures that they don’t know, by telling them to add a certain number of untrue pieces of information, or by giving them a card that tells them if the whole text they write should be a true one or a false one. As well as writing about themselves, students can also do research on a subject and then change some or all of the details to make them false.

Another way of using True or False is for students to write T/F questions for their own texts, and other people to guess the answers before they read and check. This can also be done with a second group writing the T/F questions for a text they have been given, and a third group trying to answer them.

5. Read and work out if it’s their own opinion or not
This works best if done by giving out the kinds of cards described above before they write, in this case saying “Write your own opinion” and “Write the opposite of your opinion”, and maybe “Write a mix of your opinions and things that are not your opinion”.

6. Read and work out who they were writing with the voice of
This is like a writing roleplay. Give students a roleplay card that says something like “Write an answer to the essay question as if you were the prime minister/ a conservative 70 year old man/ a teenage girl/ a liberal journalist”. Alternatively, let them choose the roles themselves. Their classmates then read their finished piece of work and try to guess who they were writing as. Then can then discuss whether they really think that kind of person would have those views, which views they agree with, and how much their own views are affected by their age, job, etc.

7. Read and work out who wrote it
This is similar to the activity above, but using the true views in it to work out who wrote it. This can be made into more of a game by giving one point for each true statement they can make about the person who wrote it (e.g. “It was written by a woman”) until they say something false (at which point the person who wrote it reveals who they are to the class or group).

8. Making predictions about people’s opinions and facts about their lives and then reading to check
This is similar to the idea above, but with students knowing whose opinion they are going to read and guessing what it will say before they read it.

9. Write about a picture and then read and guess which one it is
This works best if there are several similar pictures or if you tell students to write about their reaction to it rather than its appearance. The same thing is possible with architecture, pieces of music, poems etc.

10. Write about a picture and then read and try to draw it
The student who read and drew can then compare it to the original picture and see what differences there are. With this feedback, the person who wrote the text can then improve it.

11. Write about family, read and draw a family tree with pictures of people
The person who wrote the original text then looks at the family tree and corrects any mistakes, using that to improve their description. Alternatively. the family tree is passed to a third person, who writes a text describing it. The two texts are then compared for differences, and then checked for truth with the original writer (whose family it is). The original writer can then both write it again to clear up any confusions and borrow any good turns of phrase from the other person who wrote about their family.

12. Write comprehension questions
This is another idea that is based on normal textbook reading lessons. Students pass their writing to someone, who reads it and writes comprehension questions about it. They then pass this onto a third person, who reads and answers the questions. These answers are then checked by the person who wrote the text and the person who wrote the questions.

13. Text expansion
Ask students to write something in fifty words, e.g. a description of the classroom. These texts are passed to the next student, who adds something to the text by writing it above or below and putting an arrow to show where it should go. This passing and adding continues, until it comes back to the original person. They can then discuss with someone which changes they like and which they don’t. To add more speaking, each text and expansion can be written by pairs of students rather than individuals.

14. Mystery text expansion
Do the Text Expansion activity as above, but with people writing the extra phrases they want to add at the top or bottom of the page and deciding where they would like to add the information but not putting arrows to show where it should go. When people receive their own writing back, they have to decide where each piece of added language should go and if they want to include it or not.

15. Sentence expansion
An easier game that involves expanding each others’ texts is getting teams to take turns making a sentence longer and longer and longer. Tell them that they can add any number of words at any point in the sentence, but that they can’t change any words. This is easiest if they have laptops and write it in Word, but writing it out in hand can be worth the extra effort if it makes the language the other team uses more memorable. If you want the sentences they write to eventually join up and make a full text, you’ll need to put restrictions on what they can write each time.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet June 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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