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How to Use SEL Quick Writes to SPARK a Supportive Classroom

Posted by Paula Bourque on Sep 9, 2019 5:06:55 PM

By Paula Bourque

Below is a guest blog post from author of Spark! and Close Writing, Paula Bourque.

It’s September and teachers across the country are working on building strong classroom communities. We are focusing on the importance of teaching the whole child while realizing that academics alone aren’t enough to prepare our students for meaningful lives. It’s a pretty tall order while we are also juggling curriculum, calendars, and chaos that are a part of each new school year.

SEL Quick Write JOY


What if I said quick writing and sharing 5 minutes each day could help you get to know your students better and help them get to know themselves and one another better? We can send the message, “What you think and feel is just as important as what you know and learn.” Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) quick writes can help us build classroom community, while cultivating identity as learners and as human beings.

In our district we have moved away from the conversations or prompts that ask our students, “How was your summer?” or “What did you do this summer?” because we know many students do not have wonderful summers. They deal with trauma, poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, loneliness, etc. So we have used some other “Sparks” to get to know our students.

Sparks are what I call my invitations to quick write. They are like a prompt, but if students choose to respond “off prompt” that’s just fine. They are designed to ignite thoughts, feelings, or curiosity in the writer and there is no right answer. As we try to get to know one another and build a supportive, accepting, and positive classroom community we could offer some Sparks that help our students reflect, explore, and share aspects of themselves. Here are a few to get you started.

Sparks for self-awareness:

  • What are five words that best describe you?
  • What does it mean to be a good student?
  • I am motivated when/by…

Sparks for cultivating identity:

  • I’m the kind of friend who…
  • I’m the kind of classmate who…
  • I’m the kind of reader who…

Sparks for self-management:

  • What goals do I have for myself this year (month/week)?
  • What interests do I want to explore?
  • What challenges will I need to work on or get support for?

Sparks for connecting with emotions:

  • A time I felt joy was…
  • I can feel frustrated when…
  • When I’m angry I sometimes…

Students are never required to share. They need to feel safe and respected. Sometimes honest reflection leads their thoughts and feelings to very personal responses that they do not feel comfortable in sharing at this time (or ever) with classmates. Knowing they have that option preserves that sense of safety and honesty in responding however they choose.

I am also very cognizant that my response as a teacher has an influence on students’ quick writes and shares. I try to offer non-evaluative, neutral comments. Often, “thank you for sharing that” is the best way to honor their shares and reinforce the concept that there are no right answers and no judgments with quick writes.

They aren’t writing to please the teacher, they are writing to explore thinking and I don’t want my feedback to influence that authentic exploration.

I also encourage students to connect to the thinking of others when they share. How does their quick write relate to previous shares? Encouraging students to use some sentence stems to help them develop this habit:

  • “My thinking is similar to ____________’s because…”
  • “My thinking was different from ________’s because…”

This compels students to really listen to one another and not simply wait for their turn to talk. Recognizing that we sometimes have similar thoughts and other times have differing responses is a powerful way to inspire acceptance and diverse thinking. It also fosters a climate of intradependence--a synergy that comes from sharing our work, our processes, and our approaches with peers that elevates the thinking of all.

If you’d like to cultivate a stronger, more nurturing classroom community this year, I invite you to try implementing ten minutes of quick writes into your day. Your students will increase their volume of writing, explore their thinking in new ways, and be exposed to a diverse treasury of ideas, opinions, and thoughts with no extra planning or grading on your part. It’s a win/win!