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Timed Writing Strategies for English Teachers


Helping Students Overcome Anxiety About In-Class Essay Writing

Teachers can reduce the anxiety associated with timed writing by teaching students several strategies that will equip them with the skills to succeed under pressure.

Timed in-class writing assignments are, indeed, valuable for several reasons. Whereas students can write at their leisure and revise their assignments when they are completed at home, writing in class teaches students to think quickly on their feet. Writing in class and being an essay writer also reduces the risk of plagiarism or cheating on the assignment, thereby reinforcing the importance of doing one’s work at all times. Additionally, timed writing assignments teach students valuable skill sets about time management and productivity that will be useful in the workplace and beyond. However, students must be adequately prepared for these assignments to succeed.

Pre-writing Strategies That Will Assist Students With In-Class Timed Writing Assignments

Before a student begins to write, he/she must carefully assess the question, develop ideas, and organize potential content. Teachers can model these skills by teaching students to:

  • Create a “time budget." The student should establish a timeline for each step of the writing process and determine how many minutes he/she will spend doing each of the following: reviewing the question, brainstorming, writing the actual essay, and then reviewing it afterward for spelling and grammar. Teachers can help by providing a budget sheet for the student to break down each step.

  • “Dissect the question” by reading the prompt carefully and then reading it again to scan for keywords. Once the keywords have been located, the student should circle or underline them, thereby helping the student to assess what the prompt is asking and what kind of evidence will best support the thesis. Teachers can review sample prompts with their essay writers and model the act of locating and circling the keywords. This will demonstrate to students that keywords, such as “explain,” “choose,” “defend,” “prove,” “compare,” and “contrast,” always relate to the specific purpose and requirements of the assignment.

  • Create an outline, list, or cluster grouping to ensure that the content remains relevant to the topic and that each point is sufficiently supported. Again, each of these techniques can be modeled in class. Students should come prepared with extra paper to create an outline or cluster before writing. And, teachers can remind students to keep in mind their audience as they select examples.

Additional Advice That Teachers Can Offer to Students For In-Class Writing

In addition to providing students with pre-writing techniques, teachers can help to further reduce student anxiety and increase the rate of success on in-class writing assignments by:

  • Encouraging students to be mindful of structure, organization, and detail;

  • Reinforcing that a student’s grade will be more heavily based on concepts and ideas, rather than spelling and grammar. By emphasizing the concepts and ideas, the stress of crafting perfect sentences is reduced and the students may feel freer to focus on what the question is asking;

  • Cautioning students that a short essay that is thoughtful and well-organized is better than a long essay that rambles and veers from the purpose of the essay.

  • Reminding students that the “meat” of the essay – the argument and supporting points – is more important during in-class writing than crafting a perfect conclusion. (Here, teachers can differentiate clearly between writing done in class and writing have done at home. In an essay the student writes at home, the conclusion is an incredibly important element because it is the last word that the author presents. However, during in-class writing, if the students are running low on time, it’s better to defend their point in a body paragraph than try to briefly summarize a point that they haven’t yet explored).

While a number of these steps may seem self-explanatory to the majority of teachers, not all students are familiar with these approaches. Equipping students with these skills will assist them in creating answers that are well-developed and fluid, thereby ultimately increasing student performance and success within the given timeframe of the in-class assignment.

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