- Keywords: collaborative writing, essay writing, online teaching
- Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: Secondary to university
- Preparation time: 20 minutes
- Activity time: 45-60 minutes
- Materials: Writing prompts (Appendix A), instructions slide (Appendix B), Zoom, Google Classroom
This timed collaborative writing task, which has traditionally involved passing pieces of paper around the classroom, is adapted here for an online environment. Students work in small groups to construct several introduction paragraphs within a time limit, having already received input on the target structure in previous classes. Over four rounds, they focus on one part at a time, starting with the thesis statement, followed by the hook and two supporting sentences. Groups change documents after each round so that four different groups contribute to each resulting paragraph.
Step 1: Prepare each writing prompt in a separate Google Doc. Choosing a different topic for each prompt, create four coloured text boxes. Label and number each box with its paragraph part and corresponding round (see Appendix A for layout example). Upload to Google Classroom.
Step 2: Prepare the instructions slide. Create a table displaying the students’ names alongside their breakout room number and the document number they will use in each round (Appendix B). Colour coordinate the table rows to match the text boxes on the prompts. Include proposed timings for each round.
Step 1: As a warm-up in breakout rooms, students recall the parts of an introduction paragraph and their functions. Feedback as a class.
Step 2: Explain they will be doing a timed group writing task. Share a writing prompt on the screen and say they will have three to four minutes to collaboratively produce an appropriate sentence in each box, changing documents each round so that every section is completed by a different group.
Step 3: Model an example by eliciting suggested answers for each section to show how the collaborative writing comes together. This could be done orally in the main room, or written in breakout rooms, depending on your class.
Step 4: Share the instructions slide. Students find their name and breakout room number. They check their document number for Round 1 and open it from Google Classroom.
Step 5: Ensure students are using the correct document. Open breakout rooms with the ‘Let participants choose room’ function and set the timer. Students put themselves into breakout rooms.
Step 6: Students discuss ideas and write a thesis statement in the relevant text box. Monitor progress via the Google Docs and give support in breakout rooms if needed.
Step 7: When breakout rooms close, give some feedback, providing both praise and correction.
Step 8: Repeat steps 4 to 7 until all rounds are completed.
Step 9: (Optional) Use the student-produced texts in future lessons for grammar correction or other peer-review tasks.
This activity can be adapted for body paragraphs, conclusions, or any other structured text type. The prompts can be simplified or made more complex by adding or removing text boxes. Timings can be adjusted as required.
This online task allows students to negotiate meaning to produce a written text, while paying attention to cohesion, coherence, and paragraph structure. Implementing a time limit motivates them to interact actively, which encourages the skill of thinking under pressure and also helps eliminate silences in breakout rooms. On completion, learners have access to authentic student-produced texts that could be utilised in future classes.
The appendices are below.