DoingCL - Quickwrites






Two-Five Minute Essays
Students are asked to write in the last five minutes of class answers to the following:

  1. What did you learn in class today? and
  2. What questions or concerns do you have?
In answering the first question, students often discover gaps in their knowledge, and these then appear in the second question. If instructors ask only the second question because of time pressures, students may not be able to formulate the more sophisticated questions. Students assemble into groups of four to share their responses and select the best one or two questions to submit to the entire class (Angelo and Cross, 1993; Young, 1997). Otherwise, students can submit their answers without first discussing them in a group.

Other Short Writing Assignments
Other assignments ask students to write the main ideas from the previous lecture, to tell what they already know about a certain topic before it is presented in class,to explain a particular concept, to summarize the assigned reading, or to generate several questions they think may appear on the next exam. In each case, students are paired or grouped to discuss their ideas. When appropriate, student in pairs or groups can generate a new inclusive list or one that selects the five best ideas.


Microthemes are short writing assignments that usually can be written on a 5x8 inch index card. The goal is for students to invest substantial studying time prior to writing the microtheme; i.e., the microtheme leverages a lot of thinking, and later, to discuss their ideas with other students.

Bean, et al. (1982) classify microthemes into four categories. Though the categories themselves are not crucial to the science practioner, seeing these categories may clarify how to incorporate this writing technique into the course.

Summary-writing: Students are given a reading assignment and asked to summarize it. The student needs to understand the structure of the article and the main and secondary points of the article to successfully summarize it.

Thesis-supported: A statement that provides a clear choice between two opposing viewpoints is given to the students. The general structure of this statement is: "This item does/does not cause this." The students are asked to take one viewpoint and provide supporting evidence for that perspective. This encourages students to take a focused stance on an issue, to gather information, and to summarize it in a coherent statement. (Note that one of the authors (Drenk) permits two page essays for this assignment.)

Data-provided: Students are given a series of related statements or data and are asked to draw a conclusion. This microtheme helps students arrange data in a logical order and generate a general statement from what they've induced from this information.

Quandary-posing: A conceptual question is asked and students compose a written response. An example: a cup filled with water to the brim contains a piece of ice some of which floats above the rim of the container. What happens to the water level as the ice melts? Will it remain the same, drop, or overflow? (Bean, Drenk, and Lee, 1982)

Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers, 2nd edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Boss.

Bean, J. C., Drenk, D., and Lee, F. D. (1982). "Microtheme strategies for developing cognitive skills" In Griffin, C. W. (Ed.), Teaching writing in all disciplines, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 12.

Young, A. (1997). "Mentoring, modeling, monitoring, motivating: Response to students' ungraded writing as academic conversation" In Sorcinelli, M. D., and Elbow, P. (Eds.), Writing to learn: Strategies for assigning and responding to writing across the disciplines, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 69.

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