Silent Conversation

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • May
  • 21
  • 2007

Students help each other craft better writing than a teacher ever will; the suggestions of a peer are more meaningful. But reaching the place where that kind of editing discussion occurs is difficult. Like a lot of adults I know, students surround themselves with others who think like they do. And talking about the current essay is nowhere near as thrilling as the latest CD, prom pictures, or a juicy bit of gossip.

We’re working on a 3-paragraph essay about a quotation in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which we’ve begun to read/watch. We’re also completing some work on significant quotations from the play, similar to the quickwrites I do with my seniors.

We had our first silent conversation today, something I want to make a routine part of prewriting next year. The responses from this year’s students will help me create examples for next year’s students. Yet again, I’m looking for a way to turn this into an assessment piece. Are you serious? Fine, here’s what I hope to assess: CA English Standards — Reading 2.4, 2.5; Writing 2.2.c (maybe 2.2.d)

Here’s how today went (at least, how it went in my head):

It Started With A Piece Of Paper

Take out a piece of paper. You have a first draft due tomorrow where you pick a quotation and explain it. I’m thinking that maybe three of you have started to write this already. Let’s spend some time on it now so you’ll have less to do when you get home tonight.

On your piece of paper, write down the quotation you’re thinking of focusing on. In other words, if you had to write about something right now, what would it be? Get the quotation down, but also write a little bit about it. What job does the quotation perform? There’s a list of three things and your quotation needs to do at least one of those things.

Five Minutes Pass

Write your first name at the top of this paper. Pass it two desks to your right. Good. Now you have the paper of the person two desks to your left. Read what’s on the paper. Go ahead; take a few minutes. Once you’re finished, I want you to write a response to that person. What do you think? Does it make sense? What troubles do you see already? Any advice? Do you see other jobs that quotation performs that you’d like to point out? Did this person misinterpret the quotation?

Only Two Minutes This Time

Once more, pass this paper two desks to your right. No, you do not need to write your name on this paper. It’s a silent and anonymous conversation. Please, pass the paper down. Read what others wrote before you and contribute an idea to the conversation. Agree or disagree. Make some suggestions about what to discuss in the paper.

Another Two Minutes

To start the paper on its way back to the original writer, pass this two desks to your left. Now you’re holding a paper you’ve already seen. Read what the last person wrote in response to you. Add a thought to this. Reply to what others wrote. Once you’re finished, hand it back to the writer.

O.W. (Original Writer), Not O.G.

Read the conversation that you started. Even if you change your mind, I trust that your colleagues have given you a few things to think about. Take a look at the character posters on the wall by the TV. Look through your notes on the four quotations we’ve already written about from Act One. Your first draft is due tomorrow. Please have it in your hand when you walk through the door. If you need to print it, come see me early.


I’d really like to see this as a chat session, but I’ll write more about that later. I saw a few of the sentences people wrote today (things like “This is a significant quote”) and I’m not pleased. Still, do you think this idea could work given enough structure and enough examples of how to write? Can I keep this feeling natural and useful, like an honest conversation between a few students, yet still put some requirements in place?


1. Rijal says:

[6/20/2010 - 7:02 am]

In my opinion, some problem comes when I want to get started writing a paper are choosing a topic, organizing the paper, and the last thing is presenting the Paper

2. Todd says:

[6/22/2010 - 12:51 pm]

The idea here is that, after this exercise, you have been exposed to a few other people’s writing and that writing should help jumpstart your thinking about the topic. Rijal, when you have to write how do you go about choosing a topic? What have you settled on as your process for making this happen?