Timed Writes - Samples and Reflection

What kind of spontaneous language do my students output in a time-sensitive situation after many hours in the classroom?

-Spanish 2

-Approx 180 hours

-Age 15-16

-Time alloted: 10 min

I supplied an optional prompt to work form: Write a story about someone going on a trip. Some used this prompt while others wrote about something else completely. No problem.

This is unplanned and unrehearsed language production. Authentic communication in the form of extemporaneous composition. This I believe is a solid way to gauge acquired competency, as long as you don't do it too early nor too often, and you don't give them time to plan. During this timed write, students had no access to notes, nor did I notice anyone referencing posters on the walls.

To be sure, there are plenty of "errors", or non-native-like forms as Bill Van Patten would (rightly) prefer we call them. In fact, there might be more inaccurate spellings/conjugations than accurate. But at this stage the point is not accuracy. The point is fluency. And that students feel success in this nascient stage of language acquisition. The point is that their story is comprehensible to another human being.

You can view them all here. Below I've selected 3 samples to look at more closely.


This student (above) wrote an impressive story in my opinion, perhaps the best of the entire class in terms of L2 proficiency. Not only did he write 175 words in 10 minutes, but the complexity of language used is also quite remarkable.

In the past I may have been frustrated by a student's inability to use the verb "hay (there is)" correctly, since they naturally interact with it so much in class. Now I chalk it up to Internal Syllabus and instead celebrate what they CAN communicate.


I love the "Wayne penso con Wayne 'Yo extraño'" (Wayne thought with Wayne 'I strange') which I take as a quasi-circumlocution for "Wayne thought to himself, "I'm strange." I consider circumlocution an indispensable skill that we practice with our students.

This sample shows the lower end of fluency demonstrated by students in this class, with the lowest word count. Yet, this student is obviously still outputing language and despite ample grammatical issues, I am able to understand the story.

On a somewhat indignant note, I am confident that I would not have been able to write as much after four years as a straight-A Spanish student in high school. (I must speculate because I was never asked to do anything like this.) My experience in language class was dominated by conscious analysis and memorization. The result was heavy monitor use, inept interpersonal skills and little fluency, albeit much knowledge of verb conjugations and grammar rules associated with the common textbook.


This student demostrates a considerable amount of fluency (176 words in 10 minutes). Also apparent is a tendency to fluctuate between native and non-native like forms of Modal + Infinitive. In one sentence she says, "...quiere va" (wants goes) and in the next she gets it right, "...quiere ir" (wants to go). This happens in second language acquisition and I can only imagine it occurrs in first language acquisition -- a natural, albeit curious, stage of language development.

Again, the important thing is that this young woman is able to communicate to me in Spanish her desire to travel. She went beyond the call in those ten minutes, letting me in on what is important to her-- that she wants to do brave and ambitious things in her life, and fear will not get in the way. Strong intra-personal communication skills to accompany this very decent presentational work.

I absolutely love reading what my students can write. Timed writes are a type of celebration for us. But I limit them to about five during the course of the year. What students are able to write is due to an accumulation of comprehended input, the result of all the time and energy we've given to the "task" of communicating in Spanish. And we understand that in order to see growth in our output abilities, we need to get more of one thing: CI.

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