Quick Writes to Kindle Kids’ Hearts and Minds

SPARK! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms
By Paula Bourque
(Stenhouse, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Linda Biondi

”Life is short. Do stuff that Matters.” ~ Siqi Chen

According to Merriam-Webster. a spark is “something that sets off a sudden force.” This is what the book SPARK! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms by Paula Bourque is all about: setting off that thought process in your mind that gets to want to write, to need to write, to love to write.

I was sitting in a coffee shop in Princeton watching people. Over three-quarters of the customers were writing. Some were writing on laptops or tablets, others in a journal. Yes, some were texting, but all had a purposeful writing experience, even those who were texting!

I observed two people near me engaged in an intellectual conversation, inspired by one person’s momentary writer’s block. As one man was sipping his tea, he noticed that the person sitting across from him had stopped writing and seemed to be struggling with what to write next. (He had that blank look, staring into space.)

After a brief and animated conversation, the writer in need of a spark had the necessary AHA moment and began to write again. Writing inspires conversation and conversation inspires writing.

The power of thinking through writing

Paula Bourque’s book is all about writing, purposeful writing. Each chapter begins with a quick write that reflects her initial thinking about the chapter. In each she explains the rationale for quick writes and then offers a variety of quick write exercises that focus on different aspects of thinking and writing.

Quick writes are “short and frequent burst of low-stakes writing in response to a stimulus (spark) that do not allow for planning, revising, or overly cautious forethought…thinking on paper that helps students creatively explore idea while boosting their volume of writing.” (p. 7) What is especially great are the examples of quick writes penned by students and the feedback from teachers that Bourque has worked with.

And…If that isn’t enough… as you turn the pages, you will find a multitude of resources with ideas, templates, and websites that are linked to URLS via QR codes for a quick reference. Talk about filling up your Teacher’s Toolbox with tools of the trade! You are going to need a bigger toolkit!

That’s because writing empowers us. I love Bourque’s belief that quick writes help students skip that (often lengthy) staring at the blank page phase of the writing process. When you ask someone to write “a lot,” the paper looks looming, large, confronting, endless. By allowing the student writer a chance to play with words and genres, they can open up their mind to endless possibilities instead of endless whiteness.

The author starts with emergent quick writes for our youngest students. We invite them to respond using a “Mystery Letter” strategy, brainstorming as many words as they can with their partners and then quickly drawing or doodling things that begin with that letter.

Daily writing across content areas

The “big idea” throughout the book is to build the habit of writing into your daily lessons. Build it in from the moment the students first walk into the classroom and you ask them to respond to the question of the day on the whiteboard…What do YOU like to write about?

Quick writes aren’t just for ELA classroom. Build in time during other subject areas such as math, science, art, social studies, or technology. Show students a piece of art and ask them to quick write about how the piece makes them feel. Use a science reaction clip to prompt a what/why sentence or two. Ask them to do a quick write about their favorite app or game.

A quick write “…increases your students’ volume of writing and extends (or moves beyond) your writing curriculum in ways that are engaging and create a broader, more positive perception of writing for students.” (p.25)

Our students are living in an age that overwhelms us with information. They hear and read material from all types of sources and resources. They need to be able to process that information to determine its validity – to evaluate, synthesize, and apply the information they encounter. This can’t be adequately addressed with just a unit or two on informational writing that is completed within a four week period before another unit of study replaces it.

Bourque stresses the importance of devoting time in our teaching day for students to be able to make meaning of what they are hearing and reading, and to respond without feeling the pressure of being graded for grammar or mechanics. In a constantly connected world, we need to develop citizens who can make informed decisions. We can help our students learn how to think: to think out-of-the-box, to wonder, and to explore. This book helps the teacher with that important task.

The intersection of quick writes and SEL

Let’s not forget our students’ social and emotional awareness and learning. Taking five to ten minutes a day to help students be more aware of how they are feeling, getting in touch with their own thoughts and emotions is important to every student’s well-being. Five minutes: that’s the time it takes to unload the dishwasher, make the bed, check your voicemail. Giving our students five minutes to reflect on paper is a gift. Keeping a gratitude journal that incorporates frequent five-minute quick writes can give students a chance to celebrate themselves and express what is meaningful to them.


Read Paula Bourque’s article for MiddleWeb:
How a Tiny Spark Can Ignite Student Writing


Bourque’s final chapter asks the teacher to reflect on her/his own teaching. We learn how to “walk in our students’ footsteps” as we examine our thinking about writing, our own teaching, and the impact we are making on the lives of our students.

This book is a treasure

It would take more than a quick write to express how meaningful and valuable this book is to teachers, and will be in turn to their students, and not just in K-5. Middle school teachers will find plenty to kindle a fire in their teacher brain as well.

SPARK! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms is a treasure – an absolute treasure trove of ideas, templates, reflections, stories, resources. SPARK! is also a powerful teaching tool that will help students find ideas, discover their voices and build their confidence about writing

It is going to change your classroom. Instead of groans, you are going to hear “Wait! Just a few minutes more! I need to write. I want to write. I love writing.”

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Now retired from teaching fourth graders, Linda Biondi is supervising preservice and student teachers at The College of New Jersey this year. Over the summer she co-facilitated a week long writing institute in conjunction with the National Writing Project at Rider University. She volunteers for two service organizations: Homefront and Dress for Success of Central New Jersey – both have a mission to end poverty and homelessness. The mission of Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve through economic independence.

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