Imagine a world without cell phones. That was my reality when I began teaching ESL more than two decades ago. In those days, students interacted with each other much more than they do today. Today, in any dull moment, they revert to their phones—posting, texting, and tweeting. How can educators compete with social media while trying to create a classroom community? Inkshedding is a beneficial “old school” approach to creating a writing community, which fosters engagement, community, and personal growth.
Lesson Plan (1 hour)
- Tell your students they are going to free write on a topic. Instruct them to write in sentences (not in list form). Tell them not to worry about organization, grammar, or spelling, but that they should skip lines if possible.
- Give your students a prompt to reflect on or react to. I suggest doing this as a pre- or a postactivity on a topic you’ve studied in class.
- Give your students a good 20–30 minutes to write in class. Encourage them to write at least a page or more.
- Collect their writing.
- Put students into groups and have them to discuss the following questions:
- Do you interact on social media with your friends and family? If so, which sites do you visit?
- What do you do on social media? (e.g., post pictures, videos, comments, etc.)
- Do you return to the comments or media you posted to read what other people say? Why or why not?
- Explain they are going to create a pen and paper simulation of what they do on social media by reading and responding to their peers’ freewriting. Instruct them not to correct grammar or spelling mistakes and not to discuss the writing with anyone. Elicit some ways to respond—use emoticons, write a message, underline something that resonates with them (I like to write a few samples on the board). Tell them they MUST write something on the paper, and they can write anywhere they like on the paper.
- Distribute the writing to the class. When they finish reading and responding to one piece of writing, have them trade with another student and repeat. I prefer to distribute the writing—running from one student to the next. This also allows me to do some quality control—to ensure that each student is properly responding to each piece of writing he or she reads.
- Allow students to read and respond to at least four to five pieces of writing. After about 20 minutes or so, students hand back the writing to the authors.
- Allow students to read their classmates’ responses.
The highlight of the activity for me is to watch students read each other’s comments—grinning from ear to ear, laughing out loud, and exchanging comments across the classroom. Students react favourably to inkshedding and with good reason! Here are some of the benefits of inkshedding I’ve observed:
- It creates a classroom community
- It raises awareness of audience and purpose
- It empowers quiet learners
- It fosters brainstorming skills
- It increases writing speed
- It decreases inhibition in writing
- It allows students to experiment with new vocabulary, grammar, ideas, etc.
To read more on inkshedding, please consult:
- Russell Hunt (St. Thomas University): “What Is Inkshedding?“
- Miriam Horne (Champlain College): Writing Into the Knowledge Society: A Case Study of Vulnerability in Inkshedding (PDF)
- Miriam Horne: Community Membership Through Socially Situated Writing Processes: A Journey of Inkshedding Into Inkshed (PDF)