Perhaps 200 word challenges may seem like last week’s fad.
Old news in a constantly changing environment.
I can’t help but think, though, that good can come of them if they’re done well.
During observations, these have been some of the best and worst lessons I’ve seen. At worst, it’s just an excuse for the teacher to sit back and do nothing. At best, the students progress in leaps and bounds with regular teacher feedback, exam practice and a better feel for form. More than that, it’s a point in the week where one on one time with students is actually possible with all the benefits it brings to establishing relationship and building students up.
Take time to plan.
For these to work, spend a good amount of time planning.
Model this to students, show them good examples, plan it together as a class.
Whatever you do, make sure that students think about what they’re going to say, why they’re going to say it and that they understand the purpose of planning.
During writing time, hot mark.
Whilst we all need to take some time during lessons to get chores done occasionally, sitting back during 200 word challenges is a waste of an opportunity. Moving around the classroom and directing students week by week pays off.
You’ll really help students to improve their work, directing them to paragraph effectively, improve spellings and write using an appropriate register/form, amongst other things. More than that, you’ll be able to take some time to get to know them, building relationship and familiarising yourself with their strengths and weaknesses.
I find that using felt tips makes my notes clear and, if necessary, I can pass it on to the students to make obvious improvements.
Correct and improve.
Giving over five minutes or so to correct spelling, punctuation and grammar is particularly useful in that it encourages students to look for their own mistakes.
Someone said to me that, if practice makes perfect, we become perfect at ignoring mistakes if we don’t correct work.
With that in mind, encouraging our students to see their own mistakes is essential. In setting aside time for correction and improvement, we should see a shift in our students’ mindsets. Instead of thinking that their work has to be perfect first time, a crushing expectation for anyone, they should begin to see their writing as a process. A process involving editing.
Be creative for effective assessment.
Perhaps the area where there can be greatest room for creativity is in the assessment, whether it is peer or self assessed.
One of the best ways I’ve seen this done was during an observation. Students were asked to read out good examples of the particular techniques they had to include, deciding which of them was best.
This is the point, I think, where we can be creative and have some fun!
One of the strengths of this, is that it allows for low stakes testing. It’s possible to have these marked once a week without lots of extra hassle or work at home. With five literary techniques or five interesting new bits of vocabulary, we can quickly spot areas we need to cover in class.
Make it a competition.
The simplest way I’ve found to engage students in this and to increase ‘buy in’ is by making this a competition.
Prizes always go to students who try hardest and make the most effective improvements. Plus, I’ll often give a little prize (whatever’s allowed in the school I’m in) to the students who can give the best example of whichever techniques we’re focusing on that week.
The students feel like winners and it creates an environment where effort is the currency so all students can succeed and win. No one gets left behind.
Fad or no, if done well 200 word challenges have real potential if delivered effectively and regularly.