A REAL Solution to Your Writing Woes!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
by Lori
*There is a slight disclaimer to this post. A previous post "They Can't All Be Great" was an Affinity Mapping Flop, but I have prevailed and I love this strategy.

The very first time I was introduced to Affinity Mapping, I just knew that I had to find a way to make it work for writing. Not only does it promote thinking, but it gives order, shape, and structure to the whole idea of thinking. Any time you tell your kids to stop and think, you get some vacant stares and wandering eyes, but very little thinking. If you're unfamiliar with the strategy, here's how it works.
  • Take a big question. It can be something text-specific like...tell me everything you know about Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. OR it can be something about an abstract concept like...Where does your ultimate loyalty lie?
  • In a small group, kids will write their own ideas on post-its. Each idea gets its own post-it. It's so important that they don't talk for this portion. Allow them about 3-4 minutes for this.
  • Still staying quiet, have the group stand up and scatter their post-its around the table. Set the expectation that each student should read each post-it note, and stand back when every note has been read.
  • Once students are done reading, we're still quiet, but we're now sorting individual notes and grouping them with like kinds. Since kids are still quiet, they are reading, categorizing, and thinking all at once. And...my favorite part...it is very hard to opt out of this activity. 
  • Now it's time to talk. Once all notes have been silently sorted, kids can discuss how they would label each category. 
  • Take this time to visit your group and eavesdrop. Sometimes I think about good teaching as professional eavesdropping anyway! It's surprising the categories that they'll come up with. 

A small tutoring group uses Affinity Mapping to generate ideas for an upcoming essay. There's a goober in every group. Keep scrolling, and you'll see what I mean.
So here's why it's a perfect activity for writing. 

  • It gets them started! Rather than writing on an entire sheet of paper, they are responsible for 3 post-it notes. 
  • Often times, when kids come up with examples for their writing, it becomes redundant. When similar ideas are grouped together (and evaluated by others), it eliminates the potential for redundancy.
  • They can revisit their categories for supporting details.
  • 100% student engagement. If you'll give this a shot, I'm certain you'll see even your most reluctant learner engaging (to some degree) in the activity. 

Can you find the resident goober? These kids finished all of the Affinity Mapping steps and are pointing to the categories that they've chosen to use for their writing. Some kids are happier than others.
If the idea of Affinity Mapping scares you, or you're not quite sure how it works, get a group of your nerdy teacher friends together (you know you have them), and use them as guinea pigs before you use the strategy in your classroom for the first time. It certainly is helpful to do it before you guide kids through it. 

And yes...the pictures posted are of super small-group instruction, but I've also successfully used this in my classroom. 

Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes!

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