What's a flash draft?
In his book, What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher details a writing activity that he calls a “flash draft”, an idea he attributes to JoAnn Curtis. Basically, a flash draft is a short piece of writing in which the student creates a character, real or fictional, and places them in a scene which becomes a vehicle for them to showcase their understanding of content knowledge. Fletcher shares samples of third graders writing about the life of a panda bear, fifth graders writing about the life and culture of a South American girl, and an eighth grader writing about Walt Disney and issues related to the Great Depression.
Combining content knowledge with a creative narrative piece is an interesting and engaging way for students to practice their writing skills, as well as to display their conceptual understanding of whatever unit of study you may be focusing on, whether it be science or social studies. For example, I used this technique quite successfully in my second grade class. One of our second grade objectives in social studies was for our students to be able to identify the three types of communities: rural, urban, and suburban. At the completion of our study, we did an interactive writing piece. Since the community the students were most familiar with was rural, we wrote from the point of view of someone who lived in a rural area. We described a character coming out of their front door and, using the senses, wrote about the things they might see, hear, and smell when they walked out their front door in the morning. Then I asked them to write a piece of their own. Their assignment was to write about either an urban, or a suburban neighborhood, following the example of the one we had just written together. By the scene they described, I was able to gauge how well they had really learned the material we had been studying. If they wrote about an suburban neighborhood and were smelling gas fumes from vehicles, hearing the sound of horns honking, and feeling the crush of people walking past them on the sidewalk, I would get a pretty clear idea that they were confused about urban and suburban communities!
I have also used this idea effectively in my fifth grade classroom by having my students describe a journey to the center of the earth. In assessing their work, I looked for what they included in the way of types of rock, layers of the earth, and temperature.
How could you use this creative idea in your own classroom? I can easily envision a primary student writing about the life of a bee, picking up pollen from one flower and traveling to another to deposit it. Or in an upper level classroom, can you imagine a student writing about a water molecule and how its movement would change from sitting in a pot of cold water that is set on the stove to boil, describing the change in movement as the water heats to boiling, then evaporates, finally coming to rest in a cloud where it becomes crowded with all the other water molecules, and ending in its return to earth as precipitation? I can guarantee that you’ll have some students who seldom get excited about other writing assignments but who will totally engage in this one!