Try this low-stakes writing activity called “Take a line for a walk”

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My juniors switch places around my room to “take a line for a walk.”

It’s a keeper.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to the 2020 Write-to-Learn Conference sponsored by the Missouri State Council of the Int’. Literacy Association, The Missouri Writing Projects Network, and the Missouri Council of Teachers of English. Even though I attended only one day of the three-day conference, I’m happy with the handful of tools and activities I received or learned about.

One of those activities is a low-stakes writing exercise called “Take a Line for a Walk.”  I used it in my junior and senior English classes last week. Here’s a link to the Google Doc I made for students to use for this activity.

Sort It! Map It! Exploring Critical Literacy

I received this handout during a session at the Write to Learn Conference called “Sort It! Map It! Exploring Critical Literacy, Pedagogy, & Writing Process.” The session was taught by Dr. Lara Dieckmann, a teacher at Harrisburg (Mo.) R-VIII School District and Dr. Christy Goldsmith, assistant director of the Campus Writing Program at the University of Missouri.

What makes this exercise a low-stakes exercise?

For one, students don’t edit themselves as they write. The writing is not revised later either. It’s not even graded. It’s simply an opportunity for students to put thoughts down on paper. Much of what students need is merely practice writing and low-stakes opportunities give students the practice they need.

According to this article on Edutopia.com, low-stakes writing:

  • Increases students’ comfort with expressing their ideas and empowers student voice
  • Creates more investment and ownership in student learning
  • Prepares students for high-stakes writing and testing
  • Is adaptable for any subject
  • Allows for differentiation

I like all these reasons for incorporating low-stakes writing into my teaching, and I do use a handful of activities such as the One-word Summary, Kelley Gallagher’s Ten Percent Summary, and First Impressions Free-Writes. Still, it never hurts to add to the repertoire. In addition to providing writing practice, “Take a Line for a Walk” provides an easy and effective way to help kids read a difficult text or establish prior knowledge about a particular subject.

For my senior English students, we used “Take a Line for a Walk” after an initial reading of the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Seafarer. For my junior English students, we used the activity to review and establish prior knowledge about World War I in preparation for our reading later this week of Ernest Hemingway’s short story “In Another Country.”

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One of my students responds to the writing already on the page in this low-stakes writing activity.

Here are the basic steps I used with my students to “Take a Line for a Walk”:

  1. Pass out copies of the text you will be reading, as well as the “Take a Line for a Walk” lined sheet.
  2. Have students read the text independently or read it aloud, whichever is customary for you.
  3. Once all are finished reading, ask students to find a line, sentence or two, or an idea from the text that stood out to them as they read and write it down word-for-word at the top of the sheet. For example, what line made them sit up and take notice? Which line or two jumped off the page as they read the text?
  4. Once all have recorded their “stand-out” sentence or two, ask students to respond to their passage on the lines below it. Write a sentence or two or three to reflect on: why the line stood out to them, what connections they made to the line, what the line made them think about or ask. This is very loose. All they need to do is respond in any way they see fit.
  5. Once everyone is finished, have students stand up, leave their own page at their desk, grab their pen, and move to another desk.
  6. Once everyone arrives at another desk, have all sit down, and continue the conversation that’s been started on the page at their new desk. Do they agree with the thoughts? Disagree? Have a connection to something that’s been written on the page? Does the writing remind them of another situation, text, or experience? Again, this is a loose activity. The point is to read, respond, connect, and write it down.
  7. Repeat step six two or three more times, depending on your class size and the length of time available.  I’ve used this strategy twice and I decided to have students move around the room three times on both occasions.
  8. Once you’ve finished, have students return to their original seats and skim through the writing that has been collected.
  9. Ask a few students to share their written conversations, including any especially interesting or insightful comments.

I liked using this activity because it added some variety to our normal reading and writing routine. It also got kids moving around the room, reading and writing informally, and then discussing the ideas as well. I definitely plan to continue to use it occasionally to add more low-stakes writing activities (and therefore, informal writing practice) to my classes. Like I said, it’s a keeper.


Thanks for reading again this week! Have you ever used “Take a Line for a Walk?”  Feel free to share your experience with this and any other low-stakes writing activities you’ve found effective in your literacy instruction. Become a follower and for more road-tested writing lesson ideas. In fact, here’s a link to a post titled “My Number One Most Effective Writing Assignment Ever: Gallagher’s AOW.”

Use this Alphabet Brainstorming Chart

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Teachers stack idea cards into like piles at one of the sessions I attended at Write-to-Learn 2020. This was part of another critical literacy activity that I’ll share with you soon.

This classic organizer worked for me at the 2020 Write-to-Learn Conference

I traveled to the 2020 Write-to-Learn Conference sponsored by the Missouri State Council of the Int’. Literacy Association, The Missouri Writing Projects Network, and the Missouri Council of Teachers of English. Even though I attended only one day of the three-day conference, I’m happy with the handful of tools I’ll be using in my classroom soon.

One of those tools is the Alphabet Brainstorming Chart shown below. Here’s a link to a similar handout that’s ready to use.

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How to use this organizer:

  1. Find a new topic you need your students to explore. “Critical literacy” was the new topic used to demonstrate how to use this chart in the classroom by our presenters, Dr. Lara Dieckmann, a teacher at Harrisburg (Mo.) R-VIII School District and Dr. Christy Goldsmith, assistant director of the Campus Writing Program at the University of Missouri. Critical literacy was a term I knew nothing about; however, it was still a topic I could still ponder, as in “I don’t know what critical literacy is, but I think I know what it might be about.”
  2. Divide students into groups. Choose group size based on your needs.
  3. Tell students to think about their topic and write a word or phrase that they can connect with the topic — one for each letter of the alphabet. You can see the words I connected to critical literacy in the photo above.
  4. This activity encourages students to evaluate what they already know or think they know and enter their thinking into the squares.
  5. Let students talk among their groups and share their ideas or words. This activity is about more than prior knowledge. It’s also about sharing ideas and getting kids talking about the topic at hand.
  6. When students and groups are finished filling in the chart, go around the room and share out and discuss what students know about the new topic.

I like this chart much better than KWL charts, which have always seemed so boring to me. It has a game-like feel to it. And besides, with a KWL chart it’s really hard to come up with things you want to know about a new topic.

If I had been given a KWL chart to fill out about critical literacy, I would have been lost. With this ABC chart, I was able to come up with more ideas to discuss than I thought I could. I can see how it can be a confidence-booster with kids. It was also good to hear other ideas from my group members.

And finally, the best thing about this ABC Chart is you can make it a game!

Switch it up by…

  • Giving a prize (or just designating a winner) to the first group that fills in all the squares.
  • Giving a prize to the group that fills in the most squares in a designated number of minutes.
  • Giving a prize to the group that fills in “X” with the best phrase that fits the topic.

Sort It! Map It! Exploring Critical Literacy

I received this handout during a session called “Sort It! Map It! Exploring Critical Literacy, Pedagogy, & Writing Process” taught by Dieckmann and Goldsmith.

The presenters readily acknowledged the original source of this classic organizer.

It was adapted from The Key to Know “PAINE” Know Gain, a 1998 paper presented by  G. Ricci and C. Wahlgren at the 43rd annual convention of the International Reading Association.

I’m looking forward to using this organizer with my seniors in a few weeks when we begin our Medieval Age unit in British Literature. I’ll let you know how that goes in an upcoming post.


Thanks for reading again this week! Have you ever used this chart? Do tell! Feel free to share your experience in the comments. Follow my blog to catch my follow-up post on how the chart works in my classroom. Here’s a link to another post inspired by a session at last year’s Write to Learn conference.