2. Breaking big concepts into key understandings
When tackling a large unit of study, teachers typically break the unit up into key components and concepts. With an online collaborative nonfiction writing tool like ProjectWriter from BoomWriter, teachers can have students provide descriptions of smaller concepts to demonstrate their levels of understanding.
Addressing big ideas in small chunks and giving students the power to choose which version of each section is the best provides them a foundation to work from and the opportunity to learn from their classmates. Collaboration levels the playing field because kids are assessing the content and making the choices themselves.
3. The power of peer review
With collaborative writing platforms, teachers can distribute students’ submissions to their peers in a safe, anonymous, respectful way. Collaborative writing also taps into students’ excitement about reaching an audience of their peers, rather than just the teacher. Online platforms extend that audience beyond the classroom, too, through fun extracurricular programs and large-scale international competitions like The Writing Bee.
The idea of facilitating group writing events across schools, districts, states, and even countries came to life last year when I was working with students in the UK. A student asked if they could write a story with kids in America and the entire class—even the teacher—lit up when I said yes. Students love sharing stories and will jump at the chance to widen their audience and get perspective from kids around the world. And collaboration really works: 87 percent of teachers who participated in the first Writing Bee said that their students’ writing output levels increased while participating in the activity.
Tips and advice to help students become collaborative nonfiction writers
Have you considered doing collaborative nonfiction? Here are a few basic concepts to get the ball rolling.
Tips for getting started with collaborative nonfiction
• Start small, start young. In my experience, collaborative writing works best in second through ninth grade, with a real sweet spot in grades three through six. For younger students, start by collaborating on small, short activities; the output levels can be increased as students get older.
• Filter everything. You want to give students the opportunity to share, but in a controlled, safe environment in which the teacher filters what gets shared. Kids can be sensitive. Even constructive criticism can be interpreted incorrectly, so comments and voting should be anonymous.
• Discuss the audience. Kids can get their writing in front of more people than ever before, so it’s important that they learn how to do accurately and safely. They need to know that they’re writing not just for a teacher, but for a broader audience. This will inspire and guide them, and ultimately improve their writing.