Having trouble getting your students to talk in class? Use A/B writing to get them prepared before they speak.
This is a simple exercise that takes only a couple of minutes. The students are given a prompt, they write a response, and then they are asked to read their response to start the classroom discussion.
How to Use It
An A/B writing assignment consists of two opposite statements. One position should be labeled statement ‘A’ and the other position should be labeled statement ‘B’.
After the students read the two statements, they must choose one statement to agree with. They should spend two to three minutes writing down why they agree with that statement.
After the students have had time to write down their responses, ask the students how many supported position ‘A.’ Choose one of the students to share his or her thoughts. If the student prefers, he or she can simply read down what was written on the page.
Give other students time to share their responses. Then ask how many supported position B and repeat the sharing process.
After both sides have presented their arguments, students can discuss the issue at large.
Why Use It?
Students are often shy to speak in class because they haven’t yet formulated what they want to say. By requiring them to write their thoughts down, you are preparing them to speak.
If they do the assignment, they have no excuse for being quiet – all they have to do is read their own paper.
It also provides a specific starting point for the conversation. Students should agree with and respond to both position A and position B. In stating why they support that specific statement, they will raise other points that give the discussion a new direction.
An Example or Two
Let’s take a look at a possible A/B writing exercise for a lesson about the difference between federalists and anti-federalists.
Statement A: The states should have ultimate authority and a final say on all laws.
Statement B: The national government should have ultimate authority and a final say on all laws.
By choosing one side or the other, students will have to support either the federalist or anti-federalist side. After presenting the arguments, students can then debate the merits of one position vis-à-vis the other.
In a physics class, you might have students do an A/B writing on their hypotheses for an experiment.
Statement A: If two different objects are dropped simultaneously, I think the heavier one will hit the ground first.
Statement B: If two different objects are dropped simultaneously, I think they will hit the ground at the same time.
This could be extended to an A/B/C writing to include the possibility that the lighter object would hit the ground first.
Some A/B Writing Tips
This is a simple exercise, but there are a few tips you should keep in mind.
Make the statements controversial. By forcing students to choose one controversial position, the argument over which is correct will be livelier.
Make sure that both statements are plausible. You don’t want to have everyone choose Statement A – or the discussion will be over pretty quickly.
If everyone does choose the same statement, have students explain why they didn’t choose the other one.
This is a perfect Do Now exercise. Give the students the prompt as they walk in or write it on the board. The discussion naturally leads into the rest of the activity. Likewise, it is a good transition exercise for a block schedule period.
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