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Teaching Writing with Socrative

writable walls in the language center

Teaching writing in a foreign language is an interesting challenge, especially if it’s the focus of a particular course. Last semester I taught an advanced German writing and conversation course. The communicative aspect during class sessions is clear. But how do you have students write in class? On the surface, it is often perceived as a solitary activity. How do I bring out the social side of writing?

It’s never been a better time to teach that social aspect. For one, our language center offers many different ways of social writing: writable walls, multiple whiteboards and writable section dividers, handheld whiteboards, a smartboard, computers with large screens… There’s something to everybody getting up and writing all over the room.

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Printed socrative responses

But there are also great software solutions that work on many different devices and thus support a BYOD approach. My favorite is Socrative. At its most basic level it’s a student response system, like clickers. Students can give simple multiple-choice or true-false answers or respond to polls. But where systems like socrative really shine is the ability to enter text and display and process it in different ways.

I don’t want to go into everything that the software does at this point. Instead, I want to focus on how to use it in a language writing class. My workflow is simple: students receive a writing prompt, for example a textbook activity, a brainstorming task or an in-class question. They log into the student site and enter a room code that I provide them with (it never changes, so it’s easy for me to remember). Students do not need to register. Then they simple write and submit their text. As an instructor, I can set different parameters, e.g. whether students can stay anonymous or if they can submit multiple answers.

As students write, I can walk around and answer questions, look at their writing as it happens, or offer individual help – all classic flipped classroom procedures.

After students submitted the answers start showing up on my instructor’s account, which I can choose to project to the whole class. A wonderful feature is the ability to hide student names, allowing me to critique the submitted texts without anyone knowing who wrote it. As the instructor, I will be able to see that information later on – the system asks me what I want to do when I end the session. I can locally download the data in a number of formats (e.g. as an Excel spreadsheet) or have it automatically sent to my e-mail.

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cut answers

Back in my office I usually print out the answers, make more comments or corrections, then cut up the sheet and return the individual writing feedback during the next class session. Of course this could be done digitally, but with about 10 students per class, this is just a lot faster and easier.

I like this workflow because it allows me to work with students individually AND in a group, make writing more visible for the whole class without anyone losing face, and also be able to provide detailed feedback and if so wished for, I can use this for assessment purposes. Usually this factors into the students’ participation grades.

One thing I didn’t mention: it’s currently all free. No ads. No accounts for students. Let’s hope it stays that way, but if not, there are some other good alternatives, like Kahoot.

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