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Practicing writing skills with the One-Minute-Paper

Gaining the ability to write scientific texts, students need to acquire academic expertise: What are the requirements for academic writing? How do I quote correctly? Et cetera. The students' writing success also depends largely on their practical knowledge, that is, the gathered experiences and the resulting routines. From the perspective of writing didactics, it is, therefore, crucial to practice writing skills regularly - e.g., with the One-Minute-Paper.

Writing academic texts can pose a major challenge for students. In the worst case, it is even perceived as downright torture which can lead to texts that teachers as readers and examiners are not satisfied with. According to scholars of writing didactics, a possible reason for this is that generally too little writing is done in university – and if there are writing occasions, they are usually linked to an assessment and time pressure (cf. in detail Furchner/Ruhmann/Tente 2014: 62f.). This can lead students to perceive writing as an obstacle since they connect writing solely with stressful situations. How can we counteract this?

You learn how to write by writing

A simple remedy lies in creating writing prompts beyond test performance that can be integrated into teaching practice without much extra effort. In this way, students are able to gain practical writing experience – largely without pressure – and can experience writing as a tool for academic thinking and learning. Ideally, academic writing then becomes a routine for both students and teachers. In addition, the essential role of procedural knowledge in the acquisition of writing competence is taken into account. To reduce it to a simple formula: You learn how to write by writing. In this respect, the students’ developing routine in writing and wording, which slowly becomes established through regular writing occasions, is the best preparation for the next written exam; experienced writers will ultimately produce better texts.

Creating simple writing prompts

For teachers, the following aspect is of particular importance: In order to create writing occasions, it is not necessary to turn the usual teaching processes upside down; rather, it is sufficient to provide short, targeted impulses (cf. Lahm 2016: 111f.). This can be implemented in the form of small writing and reflection exercises, such as freewriting or creating an acrostic. In addition, students can be encouraged to write transcripts, take notes, or perhaps even keep a learning journal.

An equally simple yet effective writing prompt in the context of a classroom session is the so-called One-Minute-Paper. This exercise demonstrates that both learners and teachers benefit from regular writing occasions: A one-minute paper offers students the opportunity to reflect on the last seminar session or lecture, review the most important aspects, and record it in writing. Including the One-Minute-Paper into a course is not only beneficial for students but for teachers as well: It offers them quick feedback and gives an overview on the student’s learning process and status. In addition, One-Minute-Texts always provide impetus for exchange and discussion with students: Are there any open questions? Which aspects could perhaps be explored in more depth? Etc. So how does this work exactly?

The One-Minute-Paper at the end of a course

The implementation of a One-Minute-Paper does not require much time or many material resources: Writers only need to have a pen and paper at hand, and a few minutes. The name of the exercise is actually slightly misleading; students should be given about three to five minutes to write a One-Minute-Text. However, a major advantage of the exercise is that it can easily be done with larger groups, whether in a lecture hall or a seminar room.

Students are (usually) asked at the end of a course to write a short, spontaneous, associative text within the given time frame. In doing so, they should answer questions that are manageable in the given time and relate to aspects such as:

  • Which topic was addressed, and what was the focus of today’s session?
  • Which core concepts were discussed?
  • How does the topic of today’s session relate to the overall theme of the course?
  • Which topics interested me most, and what would I like to continue working on?
  • What am I still uncertain about? What did I not understand?

The One-Minute-Paper is adjustable to a teacher’s individual teaching and learning setting by varying the time frame of the exercise or the selection of questions. In any case, the resulting texts are not graded or evaluated in any other way. Especially if the aim is to provide honest feedback on the course, teachers have to ensure that the texts are written anonymously.

In this way, students train the spontaneous production of texts and the written examination of the relevant learning material as freely as possible. Finally, teachers have the opportunity to collect the texts and use them for postprocessing their teaching; if necessary, open questions or suggestions for discussion can be seized in the next session.

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  • Andreas Bissels

    Andreas Bissels is responsible for the writing center of the competence workshop at the University of Applied Scienes Cologne. As a writing consultant, he accompanies students and doctoral candidates in writing texts, offers writing workshops and organizes writing events. For teachers, he is the interdisciplinary contact person for questions related to didactic writing.

  • Andreas Bissels

    Andreas Bissels ist verantwortlich für das Schreibzentrum der Kompetenzwerkstatt an der Technischen Hochschule Köln. Als Schreibberater begleitet er Studierende und Promovierende beim Verfassen von Texten, bietet Schreibworkshops an und organisiert Schreibevents. Für Lehrende ist er fachübergreifender Ansprechpartner in schreibdidaktischen Fragen.

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