Sunday, January 8, 2017

Write or Wait

'Write or Wait' is a listening and writing activity to use with students when reading new material with them. It is useful as a substitute for a traditional Dictatio, a topic that Rachel Ash wrote about earlier this week. I like to think of this activity as a cross between ‘Read, Discuss, & Draw’ and a Dictatio. It isn’t precisely, but it has the feature of a Dictatio where you’re asking students to listen and write without seeing the Latin. It also reminds me of ‘Read, Discuss, & Draw’ in that the way the lesson flows with class involves a big allowance for the ‘Discuss’ portion - where the teacher clarifies meaning, uses circling techniques, perhaps calls up actors, and ensures that students understand before moving on. And if you regularly use embedded readings, the sweet spot for this activity is probably with the Tier 2 reading. 

Before we get to the good stuff, the usual ‘Scrambled Eggs’ caveat applies - I think I created this activity, but if not, please direct me to the originator so I can give them credit. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, you can read up on what went through Paul McCartney’s mind when he first played “Yesterday” here. In any case, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve gotten this activity from someone else, so speak up if you can help out. 

The basic idea is that the students have a choice to write or wait. 
  1. If a student has chosen write, they will try to write the entire sentence in Latin as you read it out loud. 
  2. If a student has chosen to wait, they cannot write until after you’ve written the sentence yourself. 
  1. You need a short piece of story (between 5-10 sentences is a good amount) that students haven’t read before. The activity really doesn’t work as well with seen material. I will explain why in a bit. 
  2. You also need the ability to write or project the story ‘live’. I typically use a blank Google Document for this with the font enlarged. But I think this activity could work with old-fashioned writing on the board if you have enough space. 
  3. Print that short piece of a story out so you have a copy to read for yourself.
  4. ***Spice Alert***🌶🌶🌶 To keep things interesting, I use stickers to give to the students that represent their two options - Write or Wait. I really prefer stickers that come in rolls rather than sheets for this. But before you pick some stickers, you will need to think about how to deploy them: 
    1. You can give them blank stickers of 2 different colors (like these) and have them add the words ‘write’ or ‘wait.' 
    2. You can give them blank colorful ones and then use a ‘fun’ type of sticker for the second option. Disclaimer - this is my preference.
    3. You can give them 2 different fun stickers, like these. The difficulty here can be for students to remember which sticker is which. 
  5. Decide how many of each option you want to give students. If you have  6 sentences, you can give 3 writes and 3 waits. Or 2 and 4. Or 4 and 2. Giving numbers that are far from equal, like 5 writes and just 1 wait, takes a bunch of the fun and, according to students, a bunch of fairness, out of the game.

  1. Students will need standard writing stuff in your classroom - pencil/pen, notebook paper/large index cards. 
  2. Hand out the stickers.
  3. Give students the special instructions for the stickers (e.g. write ‘wait’ on the red stickers, and leave the smiley face stickers alone).
  4. Have the projector at the ready, and have the students number the first sentence #1. Then ask ‘Write or Wait?’. Give students 10 seconds to decide and place their stickers on their papers, right next to the #1.
  5. Read the sentence out loud (Don’t put it on the board yet!) one time, at a moderately slow pace. It should be fast enough that there will be some mistakes but not so fast that no student in the class will get every word. N.B.: This takes some practice to pace it well. 
  6. Pause long enough to make sure all students have stopped writing.
  7. Now repeat the sentence out loud as you put it on the board. I love typing it, and have the good fortune of a technology setup that allows me to do that easily. You can make it work writing on the board too, though, so technology isn’t absolutely essential for this lesson. Good to remember when your school’s WiFi glitches out!
  8. Do your normal classroom procedure for clarifying meaning and confirming that students understand before you move on. In my class, that means students' to ask 'Quid significat?' questions. When they understand and want to move on, they use a thumbs-up or the ASL sign for 'all done’
  9. Repeat steps 4 through 8. 

  • Once students get into it, they will often celebrate or bemoan their choice to write or wait. This is good. This activity should produce high engagement from students - it taps into 5 of the 8 C’s of Engagement: Competition, Challenge, Curiosity, Controversy, and Choice. Here’s a quick summary of the C’s from Harvey Silver at the Thoughtful Classroom, and here’s a longer explanation if you’d like to become more familiar with them.
  • As for the idea of Choice, I absolutely love activities based on choosing one of two. The students get the benefit of a choice, and if you structure it correctly, they feel like that choice matters. In this activity, it gives them a sense of control over what they are assigned to do and allows them to shape their experience during the lesson. But you avoid many of the problems that come with giving students unlimited choice or a choice they have to persevere through even if they discover it isn’t a good one. 
  • If you’re planning on asking students a story while typing it up in front of them, as Bob Patrick describes here, this is a great way to scaffold some of the skills they will need for that kind of lesson. 
Thanks for reading!🌶🌶🌶


  1. This is an outstanding adaptation of the dictātiō. Choice is big. Plus: stickers! I think it's awesome that you use the ASL sign for "all done" as I, too, use this sign unknowingly when the class is quiet and I'm trying to ascertain if I need to approach the student to collect work. I starting using the sign over twenty-five years ago, and my students made fun of me. Of course, now, they moan when I don't.
    Yet again, K.C., your thoughtful approach to instruction demonstrates why I'm working feverishly behind the scenes for your transfer to the Peach State!

    1. Maximas gratias! I am always grateful for your feedback and flattered by your praise, mī amīce. It is incredible how much students come to enjoy each teacher's little quirks if they enjoy being in that classroom. And even if I'm not physically in the south, I'm with y'all in spirit!

  2. Salve amice!
    I can't see the benefits of waiting: students loose the opportunity to gess what they are hearing and transcribing a correct text BEFORE they can see it in the WB and correct it. I suppose that lazy students will choose wait by default. Isn't it?
    Am I loosing anything?

    1. Hi there -

      As far as I see it, the #1 benefit to offering the students the option to wait is offering them a choice. I very much believe in the power of student voice and student choice. For this activity, if you remove the choice, you remove the stickers, you remove any feeling of power or control. It’s pretty much just a regular dictatio. An old-fashioned dictatio is a fine activity, but the students will tire of it unless you use it sparingly. Please refer to Rachel Ash’s “More Than One Way To Skin A Dictatio” to get a better sense of why one might want to vary things when using this kind of activity, or check out Keith Toda’s, Lance Piantaggini’s, or Martina Bex’s blogs to get a good feel for how teachers are using Carol Gaab’s “The brain craves novelty” to keep their classrooms engaging even if the message being communicated isn’t particularly compelling on some days.

      The other nice benefit to the structure of this activity is that students are practicing two different listening skills. When they choose to write, they are focused on words & sounds in order to be able to transcribe the sentence as correctly as they can. They may be understanding some of what they hear, but that’s not their goal in listening. When they choose to wait, they are focused on listening for comprehension because they aren’t distracted by having to write something down.

      And to address your last concern - I'm providing a game structure for the students as far as their choice goes. They aren't permitted to choose 'wait' every time. Every student gets the same number of 'writes' and 'waits' at the start, and from there, they decide how to distribute them throughout the lesson. And given the chance, many of them will engage in some pretty strategic thinking about those choices.

      I hope that helps!

  3. When you say that some students celebrate or bemoan their choice, is that because of the difficulty of the sentence? So, if they chose to wait, but the sentence is really "easy", then they bemoan it?

  4. Hi there - You are correct on both counts! Students will wish to have waited when the sentence is longer or more challenging and will wish to have written when it turns out to be easy. This is one of the hidden gems of this activity - students are hyper-engaged in making their choice, but they have no good information to base it on. It's a guess!