Turning essay writing into an engaging learning experience is definitely a challenge. The content requires a certain amount of lecturing, modeling, reading, and writing. But your essay writing unit doesn’t have to be one long sit-and-get; you can use hands-on essay writing activities to help invigorate your unit!
In this post, I will share three activities that require students to move or use their hands.
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Hands-on Essay Writing Activities #1: Exemplar Gallery Walk
You’ve probably done a gallery walk in your classroom before, but if not, here’s a quick refresh.
For a gallery walk, you hang up artifacts for students to examine around the room. They are sometimes done in silence (students might use post-its to leave comments on the “gallery”).
As students walk around and look at each artifact, they’ll complete some kind of task.
You can use the gallery walk to show students examples of what an essay should look like. For example, I use a gallery walk activity to teach students what a strong thesis statement looks like.
First, I post a variety of thesis statements around the room. As students read them, they decide if each statement is a “strong” or “weak” example of a thesis statement.
By the end of the activity, students clearly understand what makes a great thesis statement and how to spot problems with weak ones.
You could do this activity with any part of the essay–or whole essays. Regardless of how you use the gallery walk, it’s nice to get your students up and moving while they reflect on writing.
Hands-on Essay Writing Activities #2: Unscramble Activity
Who doesn’t love a good puzzle? Another engaging essay-writing activity is to take an essay and turn it into a puzzle!
I take an example literary essay or research paper and cut it up. Basically, each part of the essay is on its own strip of paper.
Students form groups and each group is given one of the cut-up essays. Together, they must figure out how to unscramble the essay.
This not only forces them to remember the organizational structure of an essay, but shows them the importance of clear writing, using transitions, and following a rigid format. Plus, students get to use their hands as they manually move around their strips of paper and collaborate with peers.
You could have students unscramble any kind of essay (save excellent student examples for this!) or even just Works Cited pages if you want them to focus on citation formats.
Hands-on Essay Writing Activities #3: Stations
Stations are just what they sound like–stations set up around your classroom. Each station includes the directions and materials needed to complete a different task. In order for students to complete all of the required tasks, they have to rotate to each station.
While you’ve probably done stations in your classroom before, you may not have considered using them for essay writing. But there are a ton of ways you could set up essay-writing stations.
Each station could guide students through writing a piece or a step of an essay. Stations could each focus on teaching part of the essay writing process. You could even have stations in which students focused on exploring different types of essays or essay topics.
Stations are an engaging activity because they force students to move around the room. They also break up the class period into smaller chunks (a ninety-minute class becomes three thirty-minute stations, for example).
They are especially helpful when you want students to really dive into a specific topic. That’s why they’re also great for essay peer editing.
My peer-editing stations include four tasks: checking essay structure, checking citations, proofreading, and improving diction and fluency. Alternatively, you could set up peer-editing stations that focus on any four common essay issues.
Students trade papers and have to complete each station or task. The stations force students to focus on honing in on each problem area leading to better and more specific feedback for one another.
Once you know how many stations you want to use and what topics/tasks will be covered at each, be sure to gather materials students may need. Provide highlighters, markers, and any specialty items students will need.
You’ll also want to create very specific, step-by-step directions for each station. You might also want to provide students with a checklist of the stations, so they can keep track of which ones they’ve completed and which ones they still need to do.
Essay writing might never be your students’ favorite unit, but it certainly doesn’t have to be boring. You include movement and hands-on activities just like you would for any other content topic.