In Pursuit of Paragraphs - Take a look at these activities designed to highlight the role of questions in developing thinking and to give a sense of the many ways in which students can be encouraged to write.
Slightly longer writing tasks can also be possible and productive in-class or as a focusing activity between classes.
Here’s a task - the 'Dear Doreen' task - that worked well in human geography:
Write a letter to one of the cultural theorists we’ve looked at so far, offering a positive appraisal and commentary on their work. You should discuss what you like about their work and tell them about the ways their ideas and writing have inspired you. You have 20 minutes to do this. You can refer to past lecture notes if you wish, or ask me. Letters will be collected in at the end. The aim is for you and me to assess your understanding of some of the material we have dealt with in the course so far. Writing under pressure encourages us both to focus and reflect – two important skills.
And here’s another task, this time from a class in medieval literature. The tutor broke with her usual practice of stimulating class discussion by asking an analytical question (‘how do you interpret x’, ‘what does this or that episode add to our impression of this or that character’). She gave the students the following prompt instead:
You are one of Arthur’s liegemen in Italy. Write five lines of alliterative verse (in Middle English if you can manage it!) complaining to Arthur that he has not supplied you with the kind of magic restorative that Priamus and Gawain us, and that you feel you are being sacrificed to his dreams of Empire and will probably be wounded and left to die far from home
This third task from a first year politics seminar asks students to spend time organising what they have learnt from reading a number of source texts according to salient themes. The students are given a grid in which to make notes that will eventually become sections of a more extended literature review text. The aim is to discourage an approach to using literature which deals with one source text at a time.
Download the 'What is Politics?' reading analysis grid for organising sources thematically.