Children recall between 10 and 30 percent of what they read, hear, and see. By incorporating Writing Breaks at regular intervals, we can improve retention because writing and then talking about it moves the sticking rate into the 70.to 90 percent range. At specific points during class, students stop and reflect in writing on the activities happening or information being presented. Some quick sharing either with partners or the whole class usually follows this writing.
This strategy will help students to:
- Retain the information that they are learning in class.
Before starting your presentation, film, activity, or in-class reading, decide when students are going to stop and write. For a lecture or large-group discussion, you’ll probably want to stop about every ten to twelve minutes since that is the maximum attention span adults have for focused listening (and perhaps optimistic for teenagers). For a film, it might be every fifteen or twenty minutes or after a key scene you want the students to zoom in on for further thinking. For examining a textbook illustration, slide, or transparency, students should study the graphic for a minute or two and write about what they see. For in-class reading, students might respond in writing at the bottom of each page or at a designated heading.
Once you’ve determined the breaks, decide what topics you’d like the students to explore in their writing. Your prompts might be general:
- What piece of information stands out and seems really important? Why? What are you thinking about right now?
- What does this remind you of?
- What questions do you still have?
- Rate your understanding of the material on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 low, 5 high). What makes sense? What’s confusing you?
Putting the Writing to Work:
The best way to get students to use this informal writing is to follow with some pair sharing. Once the writing time is up, have students trade papers with their partner and read silently. Next, invite them to continue the conversation out loud, commenting on each other’s ideas. After the partner talk, call, on two or three pairs for a quick summary of their comments. This large-group part is very important because it creates accountability. If students know they might be asked to share, they will talk about their writing versus what happened at last weekend’s party. Quickly clarify any questions that arise and then move on to the next segment.