assessment · volume · writing workshop

Interval Training With Writers

Over the summer, my daughters occasionally talked me into some of their interval training exercise regiments. “Hold a plank for two minutes,” one of them would say. I’d make it almost two minutes, and then there’s be a challenge for another two minutes of burpees. (For those of you who want to know what either of these terms are, feel free to check them out on a quick internet search!) I can’t say I was an enthusiastic participant, but I did like that the focus changed when my muscles and attention span were at their brinks.

Along similar lines, Meghan Hargrave and I decided to try some interval training with the writers in our summer writing program. Here’s an example of a “Circuit Challenge”:


  1. Select a food in your refrigerator or pantry and write about it for 2 minutes.
  2. Think about the best thing you did yesterday and write about it for 3 minutes 
  3. Write for 4 minutes about the last time you laughed. 
  4. Write for 5 minutes about your last day of school.

One of the writers in my group personified a pickle and returned to the start of her piece to write one of my favorite stories of the summer. Almost all writers were engaged and head-down writing for the twenty or so minutes this took.

This challenge could be modified, depending on learners and circumstances. Maybe writers aren’t ready to sustain five minutes (sort of like me with burpees), in which case you could keep all the intervals under __ minutes. (You choose!) Maybe writers need some movement. You can build some into the challenge– in our case, sending students to the refrigerator was intentional so that they’d have to get up and move. You can also incorporate some physical interval training– be careful though! One teacher in my building had students do high knees in place and a particularly energetic girl got her knee high enough up to knock out her already loose front tooth– now there’s a great personal narrative!

I am not suggesting that this activity take the place of writing workshop where there’s a clear teaching point and learning trajectory. However, there’s a lot to learn about writers if you do try out some intervals:

  • Can they initiate writing?
  • Sustain it?
  • What volume are they able to produce when they do initiate and sustain?
  • How does that volume compare to what they produce in a workshop?

Furthermore, you could incorporate intervals into your units and learning targets with intervals along these lines, depending on the levels and readiness of your writers:

  1. For one minute, go back to your beginning and try a specific strategy.
  2. For two minutes, go into your story and mark three places where you could add dialogue. Once you mark those places, go ahead and add those conversations in!
  3. For three minutes, pick a setting in your writing piece and try to describe it. Make sure you think about the sights, sounds, and even smells as you bring it to life for your readers!

Interval training has added movement and fun to the classrooms I’ve seen try it out. Everyone appreciates a change of pace, and sometimes, this is a great way to add that change up into the classroom repertoire. Please feel free to share additional ideas for some intervals!

3 thoughts on “Interval Training With Writers

  1. Melanie, I am doing virtual enrichment classes with gifted students, so this idea fits right in (write in!). For me, I can see this exercise working to prompt them for blogging a Slice of Life. Thanks!

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