Response Writing

Response writing is part of every single one of our school days.  We keep learning logs, journals, write narrations, and record in writing much of what we are reading, discussing, and learning.  Most of this writing is informal.  It is graded differently than other writing assignments, because the ideas and content are focused on much more heavily than the other writing skills.

Often when we teach writing we discuss the writing process:

1.  Planning or pre-writing

2.  Drafting

3.  Revising

4.  Editing

5.  Publishing

This process is extremely important, but as with most things, there is a time for it and a time to set it aside.  Response writing is an ideal genre to set aside the writing process and let one draft, even with all its imperfections, be enough.

Using Response Writing To Teach About Any Subject

I love to use writing to facilitate learning other subjects – math, reading, history, geography, the arts, and science.  Writing, when well-utilized, can be an amazing learning tool because it forces students to think through and articulate what they’re learning.  It is both thoughtful and active simultaneously.  

This kind of writing should often set aside the writing process and focus instead on the material that’s in the limelight of the lesson.  A student who reads a biography and responds to it does not need to go through the entire writing process every time.  One draft of a learning log to accompany a math lesson should suffice.  A science lesson ending with the student drawing a labeled drawing of the experiment and a description of the outcome does not require peer editing and revising.  If the writing assignment has proper focus, the writing will contribute to the learning without having to go through the entire process.  In this case, the writing is supporting the other topics instead of being the focus of the lesson.

An Example of Response Writing

A student who has been learning about the Louisiana Purchase may be asked to create a real estate advertisement for the Louisiana Territory.

The Louisiana Purchase. Frank_bond_1912_louisiana_and_the_louisiana_purchase.jpg This media file is in the public domain in the United States.

They would first read through several real estate advertisements to see how they are constructed.  Then the student would need to think through the selling points, offerings, and price for the area historically.  The evaluation of the writing should be focused on the thoughtfulness of the ad rather than the conventions and steps.  One well-done copy would suffice without needing to go through the whole writing process.   Hopefully by the end, the student would have learned about the amazing deal the Louisiana Purchase was, the amazing merits of the land that was gained, and the importance of this purchase and the parties involved in the context of U.S. history.

Rules for Response Papers

Whether you are responding to a book you just read or a movie you just saw, articulating how you came to a conclusion on your math problem, or giving your opinion on a current issue in the news, there are a few things that all response writing should include.  When writing a thoughtful response you should:

  • Write from your own unique perspective.  It should sound like you!
  • Give your first impressions and some thoughtful reasons to back up how you feel or think.
  • Include your own opinions and don’t apologize for them.
  • Keep your message simple and straightforward.  No tangents.
  • Keep it positive.
  • Be thoughtful.  Worry more about your ideas and content than about perfection in your writing.

Here’s a printable of the Rules for Response Writing:

Does this mean subject matter writing should never be refined and taken through the process?  Absolutely not!  If there is interest and something to be benefited, by all means, let the student continue to take the piece through all the steps.  But if we waited to write until it could all be brought to published perfection, we would have far too little writing in our assignments.


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