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What are some alternative activities to writing?I am a new teacher/coach. I teach...

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crouch23 | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:43 PM via web

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What are some alternative activities to writing?

I am a new teacher/coach. I teach eleventh and twelfth grade Englis, and I coach basketball. I am starting to prepare for the upcoming season. I was hoping to find some alternative activities for my students to engage in during to basketball season because I am not very confident that I will be able to keep up with the paper work. Any proven ideas?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:28 AM (Answer #2)

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Here's the problem that has plagued English teachers pressed for time for what seems like forever:  the best way for students to get better at writing is to write.  That means a lot of work is generated and a good share of it needs to be responded to by someone--and preferably you.  However, that's not always possible or even, as I'm sure you'll find out through many posts to come, the best case scenario for students.  We all have ideas which might help, so you're wise to come here; in fact, I'l be returning to see what other ideas I might incorporate, as well.

Every draft does not have to go through your hands; utilize a specific format of peer review appropriate to the assignment and you'll surely get a better final product--which translates to less time and more enjoyment spent on an essay.  Students have to be motivated to do an effective job at peer review, but once they buy in it's an effective tool for their learning as well as your grading.

When students write both an outline and an essay, I will occasionally collect and grade only the outline.  This is less time for you, of course, but it's also beneficial when working on clear and effective pre-writing organization skills.  Students sometimes feel as if they've wasted their time, but their final product goes in their writing portfolios and they can showcase it for me later if it's a work about which they're particularly proud.  And, the next time they're required to write an outline they do a much better job!

I have more ideas, as we all do; however, others will share and I'm looking forward to hearing from them.  I've been in your position as a drama director and sponsor of other activities at some extremely busy and demanding times while still trying to be an effective teacher by getting work back to students in a timely manner.  It's a tough juggling act, but there are things you can do to lighten the load. On those really late nights (early mornings), I just had to keep keep things in perspective by reminding myself that I was a teacher first and a director or sponsor second.  Have a good season, Coach!

Lori Steinbach

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted September 29, 2010 at 10:59 AM (Answer #3)

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I wish I had the answer to this question.  Teachers of English have an inordinate amount of paperwork.   I find it nearly impossible to read and respond to all that I wish to, and I don't coach!  I can't imagine having such demands on my time as you have, and doing a good job.  If you are teaching writing, I find, as does the previous post, that peer review is a very successful tool.  Students tend to write better when they know that their peers will read their essays because they do not want to be embarrassed in front of their peers.  I find that student comments are quite insightful, and many times I can check the comments written by students and it saves me the time of writing out these very same comments myself. 

Another way of reducing paperwork is to have students score and justify their own grades.  If  they must read their own papers, assign a grade and explain where they hit the mark or fell short, they are becoming more independent learners.  These self-assessments are more accurate than you might think.  My students do not want to seem too boastful and are quite hard on themselves.  So, their ability to see their own flaws is a helpful step toward improving writing. 

For students not as capable of self-evaluation, color marking sometimes works.  Students highlight topic sentences, transitional words, specific details, analysis, literary terms, etc.  Then they choose a paragraph to revise.  You as a teacher might be able to grade only the revised paragraph of a longer essay.

One activity that worked for me last year was putting my reading quizzes on the LCD projector.  These quizzes consisted usually of individual quotations, each on a different powerpoint slide.  I called on the students who did NOT raise their hands to answer.  This way I was able to determine very quickly who read and who didn't as well as call students' attention to important quotations.  It was a paperless activity. 

I'm looking for other suggestions as well.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:19 PM (Answer #4)

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Try a publishing activity.  Tell them they can publish their own short stories, poems, essays, whatever they want.  You can use hand sewn chapbooks if you want (great in class activity) and need to go the less expensive route, or you can use one of the vanity presses online and publish a few hardback anthologies of class work from the whole class.  You can use peer editing for the process, because most kids won't want it going into print if it's not well written or edited.  This cuts down on how much you have to read and gets them more involved in catching their own mistakes.  You can hand out Pulitzer Prizes for the best in each category, and a peoples' choice award for the piece the students vote as the best.

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 1, 2010 at 5:57 AM (Answer #5)

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I completely agree with post #2 (auntlori, a kindred spirit): OUTLINES!! There have been some classes that I never even took as far as writing full papers until the very end of the semester because we spent so much time perfecting the pre-writing.

One way I've had success in keeping writing activities and maintaining time to grade is to plan your class schedules similarly.  I like to build grading time into my daily schedule.  If I give an essay in one class, I will try to schedule a long independent activity in other classes so that while my students are working, I can be grading.  Or, I might give my last class of the day an exam on one day, and give the rest of my classes an exam the next, so that I am grading the tests of the class before while the next class is silently TAKING the test.  Does that make sense?

Also, don't discredit the practice of well written paragraphs.  Much easier/quicker to grade, and certainly something that requires practice.  When really pressed for grading time, I'll often give an essay question that limits students to one well written paragraph.  I will review the parts of the paragraph (topic sentence, concrete detail, commentary).  I think honestly students become better writers with smaller assignments.  They learn the art of brevity and how to succinctly create the building blocks so that when it comes time to write a full essay, everything is in place and the piece generally lacks "fluff."

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sharonelin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted October 9, 2010 at 5:33 PM (Answer #6)

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I think blogging online is an excellent choice.

  1. It provides an authentic audience that gives the student a reason to care about quality.
  2. Topics and styles can be personalized for the student's interests and abilities.
  3. It allows creativity and variety.
  4. Students can receive and respond to comments from readers while waiting for your "official" teacher response
  5. As a teacher, you can quicky go online to keep up with the posts, then copy and paste their post into a word processing program to make comments/mark errors.
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kamiegoldstein | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted October 15, 2010 at 4:39 PM (Answer #7)

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Essay grading is time consuming but I do have a suggestion. Grade essays for one or two elements of writing. Have students peer edit and then rewrite.

For example, read essays and focus on two elements of student writing such as "voice" and "thesis." Comment on whether their is a voice or personality transmitted through a piece of writing. Check for a clear thesis. This way you are not grading the entire work and thus becoming an editor instead of a writing coach.

Follow up with peer editing where students read each others work and make comments and suggestions for improvement.

Finally, set very clear expectations and show well written essays before you assign a writing piece. Novice writers must see what they are shooting for in order to write well.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted October 16, 2010 at 12:31 PM (Answer #8)

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Have students work on multiple pieces for a writing portfolio. Allow them some creativity in what they write and how they write it. Address elements of quality writing that all types of writing have in common. Allow them to choose one or two pieces to which they want you to respond, and have them complete a writing conference template. With two or three specific areas they want you to address. Having them plan on what feedback they want also gives them focus as they draft.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted October 17, 2010 at 2:12 AM (Answer #9)

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Offer a great deal of team activities that they can work on together or some activities that they can do in class. Also, you could have students grade their own work or have a grader due it to take the pressure off of you.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:13 PM (Answer #11)

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You can find ways for kids to keep writing, without writing as much.  For example, just have them write a thesis, or only an introduction.  You can also have them keep a journal while they read, so they can respond in writing.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted October 22, 2010 at 2:41 AM (Answer #10)

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Does this not bother anyone else? If I am a parent of one of those 11th or 12th grade English students, I do not want you giving them busy work so that it takes you less time to prepare and less time to grade so that you can have time to be a basketball coach. As a former coach/teacher myself, I always thought I was hired as a teacher first and coach second, thus the pay for "extra" duties.

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crouch23 | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 11, 2013 at 9:29 PM (Reply #1)

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I take my job as an English teacher very seriously. It is my number one priority. I also want to give my best efforts as a coach. I thought that this site was set up to help teachers (especially new ones) with ideas and not bring them down. I appreciate all the OTHER helpful and positive comments that everyone has left. 

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