3 Reasons You Should Use Cold Writes In The Writing ClassroomJul 09, 2023
A ‘cold write’ is a piece of writing students do in a genre before they’ve had any explicit instruction in that genre.
Cold writes are usually administered at the start of a new writing unit and are often bookended by the use of a ‘warm write’ at the end of the unit. (‘Warm writes’ are culmination pieces students do to show all the learning they’ve done across a unit).
Cold writes are an essential element in effective writing instruction; however their use is unfortunately not commonplace in all classrooms.
Today I’m sharing 3 key reasons cold writes should be used in every writing classroom.
Reason #1: Cold writes teach you what your students need to know
One of the most prolific reasons students don’t grow as writers is they aren’t being taught at their point of need.
For some reason, when it comes to writing instruction too many schools have fallen into the trap of teaching the same writing lessons year in and year out, irrespective of what this year’s students need. (Side note: I believe some ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum’ documents are partly to blame for this- but that’s a discussion for another blog).
When I first started teaching, I was guilty of this exact practice. At the start of a new genre unit, I’d sit in a planning meeting with my teaching buddies and make assumptions about what my students needed to learn about a genre. Inevitably, the same elements were focused on every year. E.g. for narratives our teaching focus was usually narrative structures, character development, strong introductions and maybe the addition of detail.
Cold writes take the guess work out of planning (and therefore teaching). When you read your students’ cold writes in a genre, you can determine exactly what your students need you to teach them. No more random guessing or blindly following teaching plans from the internet.
Just 3 steps to far more effective writing instruction:
- Read the cold writes.
- Ascertain what your students already know about writing in the genre (hot tip: if they’re in years 3-6 there’s a good chance they’ll already understand structure).
- Create a unit planner that focuses on the elements of writing your students need to strengthen in their writing (i.e. the things that were consistently absent in their cold writes)
Of course, in order to assess your students’ strengths and weaknesses in writing you’ll need a frame of reference for your assessment. It’s no surprise that I use the 6+1 traits rubrics for this. The traits provide a broad understanding of all the elements required to write effectively. They go well beyond just looking at structure and conventions and include other- less commonly assessed- aspects such as voice, word choice and sentence fluency (all of which happen to be assessable elements on the NAPLAN writing assessment. You can read more about that here).
Reason #2: Cold writes are an invaluable tool for assessing student growth in writing
Where ‘cold writes’ are the pre-test of writing, ‘warm writes’ are the post-test.
Warm writes should be used at the end of a writing unit to measure your students’ growth in writing knowledge across the unit. As your read through each student’s warm write you should ask yourself:
- What improvements has this student made in their knowledge about crafting effective writing?
- What are they showing more of in their writing (e.g. more ability to consider their audience)
- What are they showing less of? (e.g. less use of confusing dialogue).
You’re looking for evidence of the explicit teaching you’ve delivered throughout the unit. If you focused several of your lessons on the use of appositives in complex sentences, for example, you want to see evidence of this being applied in your students’ cold writes.
In this way, warm writes can not only give you feedback about individual student’s progress, but feedback on the effectiveness of your instruction as well.
If you see little evidence of the use of appositives in your class’s warm writes, for example, this could give you pause to reflect on why this teaching wasn’t as effective as you’d hoped. (Maybe you didn’t spend enough time on it. Maybe you didn’t explain it well enough. Maybe the students didn’t get to see you modelling the concept. etc.)
Reason #3: Cold writes can be used for more than assessment
Although the first two points focus on the use of cold writes as an assessment tool, they can be used in other ways as well.
Above the Foundation level, I recommend photocopying any cold writes your students do to allow them to be used as drafts and revision pieces though the writing unit.
When you come to teaching your students how to craft strong leads for example, you can look at strong leads in mentor texts, have students watch you create a strong lead and then ask them to look back at their cold write pieces to evaluate their own leads. Once they’ve looked at their own lead and evaluated it against their new criteria of an effective lead, they can use their cold write piece to experiment with crafting new leads (rather than having to write a whole new piece and add a strong lead as they do it).
Used well, cold writes are an invaluable tool in the writing classroom.
Yes, they do take time to administer and then assess, but it’s an investment of time that pays large dividends in student learning in the long run.
As I always say, sometimes you just have to slow down to speed up.
Related Blog Posts:
- How To Plan For Effective Genre Instruction
- Why 'Less Is More' in Genre Instruction
- 2 Mindset Traps To Avoid when Leading Change (Part 2)
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