Second-hand Writing: Maximizing the usefulness of a writing activity

I hope the title caught your attention, but perhaps it’s also caused some confusion. Let me explain. I’d like to consider the possibility of using student compositions as the basis for other activities. It’s similar to a craftsman building something from recycled materials. Compositions that have been thoroughly revised and already graded could be used among the same group of students or with other groups at similar levels (assuming you have the authors’ permission) in the context of a new lesson. Here are two possible “second-hand” activities:

1. Solo reading and speaking to the class

Student compositions written by one group can be shared with a second. Students receiving the essays can be assigned questions to answer:

  • For essays expressing a point of view (problem-solution, cause-effect, etc.): What is the topic? What is the author’s opinion? Do you agree with the author? Why or why not? Be prepared to share your answers with the class.
  • For essays presenting information (narrative, definition, etc.): What is the topic? Can you summarize the essay? Did you learn anything new from the author? Can you provide any additional information on the topic? Be prepared to share your answers with the class.

2. Paired reading and problem-solving discussion

Students at one level should be able to comprehend not only the writings of their classmates but also of those one level head. This means a teacher could share the compositions of a high intermediate class with the students at the intermediate or low intermediate level. The number of unfamiliar words or grammatical structures shouldn’t be high enough to hinder comprehension. That said, try the following activity with a narrative essay or short story.

  • Story Scramble: You’re likely familiar with this game. I put a spin on it for a LEA-inspired activity (Language Experience Approach) back in March 2009. Now we’re taking a story or a description of events as related on paper by a student and dividing it up into 10-12 segments. This needs to be done by the teacher in advance. I recommend keeping sets of the story in envelopes. You’ll need about 5-6 sets so that the class can work either in pairs or small groups. Each group will assemble the story to the best of their ability.  One group can volunteer to read the assembled story to the class. Alternative sequences can be discussed.

VARIATION: You can have each group work with a different story. After an assigned amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes), you can present a copy of the original story to the group so they can check their work. Groups can hand back the original “whole” copies to the teacher and exchange sets so the activity is repeated. Finally, after all the materials have been collected, have volunteers recall and orally summarize the 5-6 stories. The class can listen and assist as necessary.


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