This introductory writing activity uses Oreo cookies to expose students to the concept of response writing (rather than simply regurgitating information).
writing, response writing, critical thinking, opinion
This activity can be used at any time in the school year, but it is a good exercise to use early in the year to set the tone for the kind of writing you want students to do. Instead of writing a plot summary or a simple description, you hope students' writing will always include their feelings, opinions, and ideas. That kind of writing is called response writing.
Explain to the students that instead of reading a piece of literature this early in the school year, the class will work first on something more important -- how to engage in responding.
Inform students that this is a food-based activity. The food being used is Oreo cookies. Explain to students who are allergic to chocolate or who might not eat sweets that eating the cookie is not required.
Open the bag of Oreo cookies and let students pass it around. Explain to students that they should take a cookie (even if s/he does not plan on eating it) and pass the bag to the next student, who will do the same thing. When the cookies are distributed, explain the rest of the activity.
When all students have cookies, ask students to write a short five-sentence paragraph to "explain what just happened." They should explain in their own words how the cookies were distributed, how they took a cookie, what they did with it Give the students 3-5 minutes to write their short paragraphs.
Next, ask each student to share his/her paragraph with the student from whom s/he received the bag of Oreos. Have them read their paragraphs aloud to each other and discuss the similarities and differences between their paragraphs.
Talk about the written paragraphs as a class. Was the writing you did and that was read to you fairly similar in form? content? (Chances are it was very similar.) In what ways was it similar?
Write the words plot summary and summarization on the board. Point to the words and explain to students that that is the kind of writing they just did. They simply summarized the events that occurred.
Inform students that you want them to try to never do that style of writing again. Share your thoughts about how that kind of writing is very standard. It is "surface" writing. It lacks originality. No papers really stood out from the others. They all sounded similar. The plot summaries or summarizations were not very personal or unique or interesting.
Now explain to them that you would much rather they write in a different way. Write the words "critical response" on the board and explain to them that it's much more important for them to try and demonstrate how they feel about a topic than to simply explain the surface details of the topic. They can do that by asking themselves and answering the questions
Now ask students to write a short paragraph that expresses how they felt about the cookie-passing exercise and why they felt that way. Give students 5-7 minutes to work on their paragraphs.
When students complete their writing, ask each student to share his/her paragraph with the student from whom s/he received the cookie bag. Have them read their paragraphs aloud to each other and explain to each other how this second paragraph is different from the first. Also, have them identify any specific "feeling" words that were used in the second -- critical response -- paragraph.
AssessmentFinally, as a whole class, share experiences and impressions of the activity to ensure all students understand the difference between the two writing forms. Also, pick up the student-generated paragraphs; examining those paragraphs will give you an idea of which students have mastered the different styles of writing and which need more work on it.
Mark A Schneberger, Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) Community College