An ICT-based collaborative writing activity
The following activity uses an internet-based application called EtherPad which allows everyone to see - in real time - what others are writing, and to build on that.
Practical activity (11 min). Choose a broad topic that you want your class to write about in a forthcoming lesson – it can be a factual topic (eg healthy foods, diseases, hobbies, weddings or buying food in the market) or a creative story. However this is an open-ended writing activity so children are free to devise their own sentences around the topic without feeling there are right and wrong answers. Thus a topic asking them to list short responses won't work well.
Devise a title to give them, e.g. “The magic stone” for a story. Discuss the choice with a partner if you like.
Practical activity (11 min). Now open all the netbooks, take one per workshop participant. Go to EtherPad and try out the collaborative writing task below.
Classroom activity: Collaborative writing with EtherPad
1. Share out all the netbooks – make equal sized groups (or pairs if there are enough machines). Groups needs to have mixed reading and writing ability.
2. Learners open them and go to EtherPad. Each group makes up a group name and types it in in capitals, eg WHALES. Teacher writes the name of the topic on the board, eg. “what foods are healthiest for children to eat” or “a story about a magic stone”.
3. Each child then types their own name underneath the group name (not capitals, eg “Melvin”) so they all get a chance to practise typing, and so who the group members are is clear to others.
4. Each group brainstorms words related to the topic that they might want to use in a story or piece of writing. They type the words straight into the Etherpad under their group names (leave a blank line under the names), sharing and rotating the netbook so again everyone generates and types at least one word.
Encourage them to be imaginative! If they don’t have many ideas, ask a few open-ended questions to start them off (e.g. “What hobbies do people you know have?” “What could a magic stone be used for? What problems might arise if it could really do anything its owner wanted?”)
5. When you judge that they have written enough (a few words per group is fine), ask them to look at the other groups’ words (but not before, so they don’t copy). Show them how to scroll if necessary. Discuss with them how many words are the same across groups. Are there any particularly interesting or novel words? If so, point them out and ask the author to explain how their word fits the theme, but don’t spend too long on this. If there are spelling mistakes, ask other children to correct them.
6. Each child writes a short story or factual paragraph in their books, drawing on the words generated by the class; they should try to include as many as they can, forming proper sentences with them, and adding in any other words they want to. Ask them to try not to repeat words but to make the sentences as varied as they can, and to make sure they include some ideas from other groups as well as their own.
Learners should pay the usual attention to punctuation, grammar etc, as appropriate for their age. Teacher circulates to see how they’re doing and illustrates / reminds them of what they need to do if necessary, but lets them make their own choices about what words to use.
Differentiation: Some learners will be faster than others; allow the slower ones to write less in the time available, but encourage the faster ones to write longer pieces using more of the shared words, and to proofread carefully what they have written.
Alternative: You might want the group to write the story or paragraph together instead? So only one child writes while all of them make up sentences. Only one book will contain the writing of course, but the group may benefit from having collaborated. Or they can work together anyway and each write the same sentences down, helping each other with spelling and punctuation.
Alternative: If you found a group was particularly adept at using the computer earlier, they can try typing their story into Etherpad, working together on a single story. But if they are very slow at typing, they should write by hand instead.
To help your students type faster, before or after this lesson: play games on typing under “Edubuntu Applications > Education”, such as TuxType.
Activities you could do with Etherpad later on when your students can type faster:
- Writing a story together (each student in each group writes a sentence that follows on from the previous sentence)
- Students type a question they are curious about, and other students respond. (eg “Why is the moon only out at night?”)
Whole group discussion (11 min). Discuss the issues and any pitfalls you anticipate. What are the outcomes you would like – what should the students be writing? Change the plan a bit if necessary, to suit your own learners.
You may want to make a note of the topics the teachers each choose for use in class with EtherPad, and to include these in your educator reflections.