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Looking for Quick, Everyday Writing Practice for Students? Try Parachute Writing!

By Rebecca G. Harper
 | Oct 04, 2021
students writing

Organization, neatness, and structure have never come naturally to me. I will be the first to admit that I am one of the least organized people you will ever meet. My to-do list rarely gets finished; I have a desktop that is a mosaic of mismatched files and downloads; my office is cluttered with books, sticky notes, and note cards; and don’t even get me started on my closet. Perhaps my penchant for clutter, chaos, and disarray is why I have such a love for writing and teaching it.

Writing is messy

You see, real, honest, authentic writing is messy. Real writing is that early morning, just-out-of-bed look—not the “I’m ready for my close up,” pretend this is how I look at 5:00 a.m., Instagram post–worthy version. Nah. Real, authentic writing does not just emerge polished and ready to publish. Instead, it often requires practice and work. To quote Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias, “It takes some effort to look like this!” and writing is no different. It is a unique process, complicated and non-linear. Recursive and dynamic. The writing process is organized chaos. Fragments falling. Sentence puzzles taken apart and put back together. Words omitted. Words added. There is no one right way to write. And this is why I love it.

And this is why students need to write often and for a variety of purposes: They need practice. Authentic writing is rarely formulaic, neatly contained, and boxed in. It can’t be reduced to a clever acronym where students fill in the blanks and respond, and it certainly isn’t something that we can race to complete. Because real writing looks messy, it requires deliberate planning and purpose, strategic thinking and decision making, and careful consideration and awareness of audience and purpose. Plus, writing often and for a variety of purposes not only helps students become better writers but also aids in their development as readers.

The only way that students will get better at writing is by writing. Writing engagements can be used in any content classroom, at any time, and with any audience. Regardless of a student’s reading or writing skills or level, there is some type of writing that they can do daily.

Parachute Writings

I use the term Parachute Writings (PWs) to describe quick writing opportunities that can be easily deployed in the classroom. PWs can be dropped into just about any lesson and require limited up front preparation.

Just like parachutes prevent skydivers from crashing into the ground, PWs offer an element of safety for students. They are quick, low stakes, and flexible, which provides students the opportunity to practice multiple writing skills for a variety of purposes and audiences in short bursts.

PWs can be conducted with a partner or in a group setting, which offers another level of safety. Think about real skydivers: Before they attempt a solo jump, they take part in tandem jumps as part of their learning and training. Writing is no different. Building confidence in writing often is achieved through collaborative exercises and peer engagements.

PWs can be dropped into lessons at multiple points in your teaching on a frequent, daily basis; however, you need to be mindful about when the writing should be deployed and where. Although versatile and flexible, there is a specific element of purposeful implementation when using PWs. When planning PWs and adding them into lessons, it is helpful to consider the overall objectives and goals of the lesson.

Here are some easy PWs that you might try in your own teaching.

  • Drop Drafts are great PWs that can be used at any point in a lesson. Have students stop what they are doing and write for a minute or so (this can be in the form of a prompt or question posed by the teacher or other writing task). Remind students that this writing is only going to be seen by them so they will be more likely to write truthfully and freely. After the students finish their Drop Draft, have them crumble up their papers and “drop” them in the trash on the way out the door. Because this PW is not graded or read by peers, it can be used not only for clarification or understanding of content but also for sensitive, non-academic issues.
  • Quick writes (QWs) are some of the easiest PWs because they can take on multiple forms with the click of a pen. In a flash, QWs can transform into a whole different writing engagement based on the context and purpose of the lesson. These quick bursts of writing are often shared with peers or extended later into more developed pieces of writing. Plus, quick writes offer students the ability to read and respond to a variety of texts using any number of activator questions or thinking prompts.

    Easy QWs might involve a small excerpt of text such as song lyrics, a short passage from a novel, or a poem. You might ask students to write about what the piece reminds them of, have them borrow a line from the writing, or pick out words they like. You can also use images, movie clips, and objects for QWs. For example, one summer I used slices of watermelon as a descriptive writing QW for my students. QWs are great not only for daily writing but also for extension opportunities. If students connect with a particular QW, they can choose to extend it to a more developed piece later.
  • Hear This is a strategy that works extremely well with listening and speaking lessons, highly descriptive texts, or concepts that require students to visualize material. An easy way to incorporate this type of writing is in tandem with highly descriptive material. As the text is read aloud to the students, they draw what they hear, thus creating a physical visual of the material. After students have created this visual accompaniment to the read-aloud text, have them add words from the text on sticky address labels or sticky notes and affix them to the drawing. This is a great way to teach not only listening comprehension and visualization but also textual evidence.

Regardless of the subject area or grade level, offering students multiple opportunities to write helps them grow into strong, confident writers. Try deploying one of these Parachute Writing activities into your lessons and watch your students soar.

Interested in reading about more high-interest, engaging ways to get students to write? Pick up a copy of Write Now and Write On: 37 Strategies for Authentic Daily Writing in Every Content Area to learn more about easy-to-implement writing ideas for students.

ILA member Rebecca G. Harper is an associate professor of literacy at Augusta University, Georgia. She serves as an invited speaker and keynote presenter for a variety of literacy conferences and delivers literacy professional development sessions across the United States. Her research interests include sociocultural theory, critical literacy, and content and disciplinary literacy. She resides in Aiken, SC, with her husband, Will, and children, Amelia, Macy Belle, and Vin. You can follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.

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