Rapid-Fire Writing

Rationale

Rapid-fire writing is a simple, highly structured way to get students thinking and writing about a topic. This strategy helps students clarify their thoughts by alternating between thinking and writing. It can uncover the thoughts and emotions behind our initial reaction to a piece of content, and it also builds the skill and practice of iteratively reviewing and revising throughout the writing process. This strategy is often helpful in both brainstorming and beginning to narrow the focus for discussion, and it can be used to develop a thesis statement for a formal essay or report.

Procedure

  1. Select the Text/Media
    Choose thought-provoking text/media to which students will likely have varied and complex responses. For example, the reading Talking about Religion introduces a story, emotions of shame and fear, and ideas about democratic participation. The reading We Need to Talk about an Injustice, which is the text of a TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson, similarly introduces a story students may relate to, big ideas with supporting and perhaps surprising data, and an opportunity for emotional response.
  2. Gather Supplies and Introduce Protocol
    Have students get out paper and pens before they start reading or viewing so that they can immediately begin the rapid-fire writing process. Let them know that they will be following a structured protocol to guide their writing so that they aren’t surprised when you ask them to stop writing.
  3. Students Read/View Content
    Have students read the text or view the chosen content.
  4. Think, Write, Read, Repeat
    Using a timer, lead students through this series of steps:

    1 minute: Quiet thought; no writing.
    3 minutes: Write (try not to stop writing the entire time).
    1 minute: Read and circle three main ideas (words or phrases) from what you have written. No writing during this time. You can read, reread, and think, but do not start writing again.
    2 minutes: Write.
    30 seconds: Read and put a square around one word or phrase.
    1 minute: Write.
  5. Reflect
    After the quiet, reflective time of rapid-fire writing, the resulting clarity of thought can be powerful in conversation. Depending on the size of the group, this could be done in small groups or as a whole class.

Variations

  • Abbreviated Activity: Depending on students’ ability and writing experience, the duration of the time blocks might be shortened at the beginning and then increased to the times listed.

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