Revamping a Writing Strategy… for Math!

Several years ago, I attended a workshop with an attention-grabbing opening activity. The presenter posed a simple question, then each of us was to write a response to the question for 2 minutes.  After 2 minutes, we passed our papers to the left, allowing peers to comment on each of our initial reflections, as we had the chance to comment on another’s paper.  We did this “paper pass” around the table once more, then received our own papers back to review the comments that had been added.

At the moment, I don’t remember what the workshop opening question was about, nor do I remember what the workshop was about – I was too busy thinking about how I could apply a similar strategy to my mathematics classroom!

This “write-around” strategy seemed to lend itself well to any mathematics topic that requires multiple steps, so adapting it to multi-step equations seemed to fit.  I’ve structured the activity for groups of 4-5 students.  Each student starts the activity with a different problem, then only solves the next step of the problem and signs his/her name next to the work done.  Papers pass to the left, then students analyze a new problem, as well as a peer’s work thus far, adding only the next step to the work.  If a student disagrees with the work as papers pass, he or she must consult with the “author” of the incorrect step, so the goof is corrected by the one who made the mistake.  Papers pass until all problems are solved and checked.

Sometimes, I have used the “write-around” as a formative assessment, having students present problems to the class using the document camera.  Other times, I tell students ahead of time that I will randomly grade one specific problem sheet from the activity.  I love the “write-around” strategy for the communication that happens as students solve the problems, as well as the complete ownership the entire group has over each problem sheet, since every student’s name is signed next to several steps of work.  The strategy is easily adaptable for any multi-step mathematics topic.  Here are the topics for which I have already created resources – check them out!

Solving Equations With Variables on Both Sides

Solving Equations by Combining Like Terms

Solving Equations Containing Fractions and Decimals

Solving Equations Using the Distributive Property


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2 Responses to Revamping a Writing Strategy… for Math!

  1. Shelley says:

    Hi Cathy,

    One of your more recent posts suggested visiting this older post, and I’m so glad I followed the link! I really like this strategy and I’m hoping to try this soon. Since this post is almost two years old, I wanted to ask whether you still incorporate this strategy for multi-step equations, and whether you have modified the structure at all over the two years? Also, how often have you used the write around? It seems like it would be valuable to go through this process once per chapter if relevant to help build skills. Before I think that far ahead though, I wanted to see if you have any updates. Thanks! Shelley

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Hi Shelley,

      I definitely still use this strategy and the suggested resources as well. I use it any time I need some feedback from students on a multi-step topic that they are still learning but have most likely not mastered. Write-Arounds facilitate an opportunity to allow peers to communicate and sift through the mathematics and tackle authentic error analysis while I look on from the side. Not every chapter may be conducive to this strategy, though another one I like to use that may fit more math topics is my “4-corners” strategy, described here:

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