Slow Writing and Checklists

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Deliberate Practice and retrieval based tasks

Encouraging thinking during practice tasks

Time and time again we find ourselves reminding our students to think before they write, but the will just dive right in anyway in many cases. In truth, considering knowledge before putting it into practice is not easy and it can require some direction, and perhaps more direction than us demanding for thinking. Guidance in the form of scaffolds and supports can help promote thinking (and thinking about what we consider to be the appropriate things), particularly in the earlier stages of practising material.

Suggested approaches to scaffolding, and therefore encouraging thinking, when it comes to application of writing is Slow Writing and the use of Checklists.

What is Slow Writing?

Slow Writing is a technique that was considered and developed a number of years ago by David Didau (, Slow Writing: how slowing down can improve your writing). The idea is just as it sates, get learners to slow down and dedicate care and attention to their words, sentences and paragraphs. They might well write less, but they will likely produce quality.

  • First and foremost tell students that the written task will be drafting not writing. If possible also encourage them to double line space their writing (this can be tricky so you can provide double spaced paper).
  • Then set a topic and provide a set of writing rules (that appear random) that must be included in the writing.

For example the writing rules could be:

  1. The first sentence must start with a present participle (verb ending in ‘ing’).
  2. The second sentence must be exactly five words.
  3. The third sentence must use a semicolon.
  4. The fourth sentence will start with an adverb.

and so on…

The point is this really forces writers to slow down and think not only about the current sentence, but also what will come next (it is pretty impossible to rush). It lends itself to drafting – which is why that was stated from the outset. Once ‘finished’ they can try to improve the writing, looking through it to find any words that could be better (this is why the double spacing is used!).

Didau mentions other ideas for approaching Slow Writing such as:

  • Having lots of different sentence structures/instructions in a hat or in a random selector online and others get to pick one. (the Triptico Plus website does have an interactive version as part of its toolkit but the website is not free).
  • Generate a list of numbers, where they correspond to how many words must be in each sentence.
  • Paired Slow Writing – students write alternating sentences and question each other about their choices and why they wrote what they did to help keep the narrative going.

Checklists to embed good habits

This is about using checklists in the context of features of practice tasks (as opposed to checklists of specification content. You provide a framework for what you want learners to include in their writing or their outcome and they self-assess and monitor the inclusion of these features either as the task progresses, or as a checking exercise toward the end.

I have included…Paragraph 1Paragraph 2Paragraph 3
A key sentence/point
Evidence to support my point
Explained and explored that evidence
Linked the point and evidence to the themes or context of the question
A simple tick-box checklist for self-assessing writing.

On a similar theme to the checklist above, the criteria boxes could be replaced with key terms or vocabulary relevant to a topic and the aim would be to include a certain number/as many of them as possible to enhance the quality of an extended response, such as the brilliant example from ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ for Physics below, to scaffold an explanation of how earth wires and fuses protect appliances. This is a similar approach to Layered Writing discussed elsewhere.

MetalLive wireMetal caseSurges
Earth wireShockPersonSafety
(Bonus) Resistance(Bonus) Conductor(Bonus) Plastic(Bonus) Insulator

Removing the scaffold

Remember that over time, as proficiency and fluency in practice improves, to reduce the level of scaffolding so that the continuum toward independent practice is maintained.

Associated further reading and references:

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