building a writing prompt that challenges students to think deeply about history
Classroom writing assignments can feel very unauthentic to our students. Think about it. Students generally feel as though they--a single voice--are writing down their words to hand to an audience of one--the teacher--for evaluation. And let's face it. Usually the writing turned in to the teacher would register pretty low on Bloom's Taxonomy; like it or not, most student writing assignments ask learners to do little more than regurgitate information from notes or research. In the real world, no one writes like this, and thus, school writing assignments can feel very contrived. And our students are much more aware of this than we give them credit for.
Enter the RAFT writing assignment. Its sole purpose is to make writing feel more authentic in two ways: 1) students are asked to think and write from a real world person's perspective, and they are asked to shape their ideas to appeal to an audience outside the classroom; 2) because they are considering perspective as they go through the writing process, students are being asked to think at a much deeper level of Bloom's Taxonomy. It's no wonder R.A.F.T. writing assignment have become very popular in the last decade, especially with content area teachers who are looking for ways to use more writing across the curriculum in their classrooms.
What is a RAFT Writing Assignment? R.A.F.T. writing prompts challenge students to assume a Role before writing, to write for an imaginary Audience, to write using a given Format, to write about a certain Topic. This is a simple but powerful technique that will inspire more thoughtful writing from yourself or your students.
A Bonus Letter! Sometimes you might also assign your students a Strong Verb to keep in mind as he/she writes, transforming the R.A.F.T. prompt into a R.A.F.T.S. prompt. If you assign strong verbs like convince, encourage, assure, or sway, then you have just transformed the prompt into a persuasive writing activity, which registers even higher on Bloom's Taxonomy. In Northern Nevada, we features R.A.F.T.S. writing prompts at our Persuasive Writing In-service Classes and Workshops, and our math, science, and social studies teachers always find great value in designing thoughtful RAFTS together. On our R.A.F.T. Homepage, you can access the worksheets we use when we help teachers design these thoughtful, content-based writing prompts.
You can also let the interactive machine below help you design a serendipitous R.A.F.T.S. prompt. The five buttons below, once pressed, will help you begin to imagine a R.A.F.T.S. writing prompt about a history or social studies topic for you or for your students to write about. If one of the button's choices doesn't seem to work, feel free to click it again. Your job here is to create a R.A.F.T.S. writing prompt that you or someone else could actually write about and learn from while writing.
Ready to try? Start clicking the buttons below until you have an idea for a R.A.F.T.S. assignment to be used in class.
Graham & Herbert demonstrate the necessity of daily writing activities in Social Studies content classes. My students demonstrate their understanding of History standards via MEAL and RAFT writing assignments. As a general rule, a MEAL prompt is designed to help students analyze evidence to support an argument, while a RAFT prompt requires students to inform/explain a historical topic to an audience. This post will feature examples from an 11th grade US History class. See Dare to Differentiate’s wiki for more examples and instructions.
Role of the writer – helps the writer decide on point of view and voice.
Audience for the piece of writing – reminds the writer that he must communicate ideas to someone else and helps the writer determine content and style.
Format of the material – helps the writer organize ideas and employ the conventions of format, such as letters, interviews, and story problems.
Topic or subject of the piece of writing – helps the writer focus on main ideas.
For this in-class writing assignment, students chose one out of four RAFT writing prompts. Students were allowed to use the book to complete this assignment, in fact it was designed to help them read the text. After a certain amount of time usually 20 minutes, students swapped papers, read each other’s work, then underlined the number of facts from the book included in the RAFT and reported out those numbers. I used this as a goal-setting strategy and it may or may not be used a factor when grading.
You are a 1950’s Police Officer warning a white church group about the dangers of Juvenile Delinquency.
You are a farmer, in favor of the Bracero program. Write a letter to your Congressman persuading him to continue the program, even though the American public is against it.
You are an African American inner-city resident speaking to the NAACP about the assistance needed for the city’s poorest residents.
You are a Native American WWII veteran testifying before Congress. Describe how and why the US Government should make life better for Native Americans.
RAFT assignments can be used regularly to get students writing about texts, responding to texts, and summarizing texts. As a bonus, these writing assignments all have a significant correlation with improving reading comprehension. Please share examples of RAFT prompts, noting the grade level and subject it was used for in the comments section.
Fisher, D., Brozo, W.G., Frey, N., & Ivey, G. (2011). Fifty Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy. 2nd Ed. Pearson. Boston, MA.