Small change, big impact

I am getting great feedback from workshop participants who adopt this tiny tweak.

When you end class with a Write & Discuss activity (which I almost always do), stand in front and physically write on the board rather than projecting the writing from a computer. I know… it is so much more convenient to be able to press save and keep the word document for next class.

However, this is the point in class in which students have received so much input that you can confidently elicit unplanned responses from them. When you are standing in front, you make eye contact. You write one word to start the summary and you scan the class for the next word from a student ready to play the game. W & D is not simply a summarizing activity; a good W & D bounces from student voice to student voice with the teacher merely guiding the written output so that it is correct. A truly great W & D flows in a direction that the teacher may not have anticipated, yet does summarize the conversation that took place in class that day.

From the back or side with the lights dimmed to better see the projected image, a teacher squinting at the keyboard (and eager to sum up the class before the bell rings) will naturally take control of the flow of the text. Students become passive observers of the summary. There is nothing wrong with letting students just read the summary as you create it, but I think it is generally more effective to encourage their natural creativity and playfulness with the language. Not all students are going to speak up, and that is okay. However, I suspect that this more playful approach to W & D helps not only those students who are eager to speak in class, but also scaffolds the writing process for those quiet students who have not begun to produce effortless fluency writes.


  1. Do students copy down in their notebooks what you are writing on the board? Or are they just listening and contributing and just watching you write and spell on the board?

    I teach high school ESL (level 2). Some much stronger than others.

    What do you do with this short summary the next day? Give it as reading input as a class warm-up?

    What about if you don’t do stories? How would you start the discussion instead of asking “What is there?”

    1. (1) Listen & contribute, no notebooks out until the W&D is finished. Then when we have time they copy.
      (2) You don’t have to do anything with the W&D. The impact is in the summarizing at the end of class. I might ask students to translate it to their parents, or pull up a copy that has been placed on Textivate.
      (3) Buy you talk about something in class, even if it is not a piece of fiction. Many days we do student interviews, talk about life or TL culture. A simple “What happened today in class?” should be fine.

  2. I just found this post while searching for information on the how, when, and why of “write and discuss”. Can you give examples of how creativity, playfulness, and the unanticipated surface in “write and discuss” without these changing the information that was discovered during the input? How much time do you spend on write and discuss in comparison to the time spent on input? Beyond these 2 questions, anything you can reveal related to the how, when, and why of write and discuss would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Save ten minutes at the end of the class. When I have trouble tracking time I will ask the class, “Is there someone who can help me keep track of time, someone who is always looking up at the clock?… Could you tell me when it is 8:40? Class ends at 8:54 and I want to make sure I give you time to grab your bags and get your stuff together”. Phrased like that, the kid will tell me or risk the wrath of classmates if I run over time.

      Take a look at videos of Write & Discuss, for example this one at 23:30

      I usually start by asking ¿Qué hay?, but I do not have a particular answer in mind. Kids could have answered “basureros”, but they could have said “fuego” or anything else that showed up in that story. Many teachers simply dictate their Write & Discuss, which is really a dictation without “Discuss”. I often get more responses when I add a transition word but do not fill in what comes next. If I had written, “Hay muchos basureros anaranjados que” and then just stopped there, looking back at the class, they might not have suggested viven like I wrote. Someone might have said “están en…” or used another word that would describe what happened in the story. The text could have gone in many directions, while still describing what happened in class.

    2. I was looking through the materials I hand out at workshops and found another example of Write & Discuss. I hope these help clarify the process:

      Let students guide the writing in the Write & Discuss activity. The key to this activity is to make sure that virtually all of the suggestions come from your students, not from you. I usually start with the name of a character and I let them volunteer. This is an effective way to gently model correct sentence structure. I provide transition words, and I rephrase so that what is written on the board is correct, but the ideas all come from the students. For instance, a sentence such as “Paula hace pipi porque tiene miedo cuando oye lo que dice Carolina” (Paula pees because she is afraid when she hears what Carolina says) may have several authors, as this transcript of the class conversation shows:

      At first I just wrote the word “Paula”. If no one can finish that sentence then I know we have a lot more talking, questioning and reading to do before I push them into writing and speaking. “Hace pipi”, says one student. I write on the board, “hace pipi porque” and then ask, “¿Por qué hace pipi Paula?” “Tiene miedo”, says a different student. I write, “tiene miedo”, and I ask, “¿Cuándo tiene miedo?”. I could have asked where… I am simply fishing for an answer. Often the students surprise me with an unexpected but valid response.

    1. In every class we talk about something, whether it be a student interview, a movie talk, creating an imaginary character or even listening to a song. Even when we play rock, paper scissors I can turn that into a story about how X student almost won, he was so close, but then Y student challenged him and she won. Regardless of what activity we have done in class, at the end of class we can summarize what happened in comprehensible Spanish using a Write & Discuss activity.

  3. This is a great tweak! You can also take a photo of the whiteboard in Google Keep. Then grab image text, and then copy and paste the grabbed text into a Google Doc.

  4. Much needed. Perhaps not all tech is bad but we gotta ask ourselves about how tech influences FLOW. One thing I noticed from your last sentence: my quiet students are the most proficient writers and output is most eloquent in writing. My extroverted students have okay writing skills but their speed and accuracy is not as developed as my more quiet students. This is what I have observed in my French classes at my school

  5. Mike:

    Thank you for the observation. I don’t do it like this. Your way is so much better. Little nuggets like this are so enlightening.

    BTW, would you like to see the slide show I developed from the La Persona Especial that you sent me? I use it as my interpersonal communication semester and final exams.

    God bless, Ron

    On Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 2:41 PM, My generation of polyglots wrote:

    > mpeto posted: “I am getting great feedback from workshop participants who > adopt this tiny tweak. When you end class with a Write & Discuss activity > (which I almost always do), stand in front and physically write on the > board rather than projecting the writing fr” >

  6. So as to have a digital copy of the text, I create a google doc for all write and discusses for the year that is shared with a fast processing student. They just copy down the text as I write it on the board. After class, I edit the doc. It’s shared on google classroom with the students for their reviewing purposes if desired, and I can easily bring it up in the future for other reading activities.

    My experience generally is that the kid I ask to be the recorder is honored and excited for this job! It gives them identity and purpose in the class. They don’t view it as busywork or demeaning or distracting even. Frequently, they also contribute to the review process as well.

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