Write, Review, Repeat with the Tsunami Writing Challenge

tsunami spark

Getting students to write, present their work, or even read can be hard work. Over the past few years, I have tackled different approaches to get students to present in my World Language and Computer Science classroom, including Iron Chef lesson design and Pecha Kucha. The Tsunami Writing Challenge is another option, which attacks the conundrums of producing the written word to make it fun and collaborative while giving the student author the opportunity to go deep.

I was presenting at CUE BOLD and was able to attend one of Ben Cogswell‘s sessions on Flipping the Writing Process, in which he discussed ways to get students drawn in through videos, images, and text, then turning those into a writing process that includes peer review, instruction, and media production in the form of a group video. In a previous blog, San Gabriel Valley CUE Board Member Valerie Sun discussed Iron Chef lesson design where she wrote about the process and how to introduce it in the classroom. Ben’s writing process takes the idea of Iron Chef and modifies it slightly so that students are focused on writing and the presenting is done through iMovie or Adobe Spark.

The tasks are called the Tsunami Writing Challenge I & II and Narrative Writing Challenge I & II. The process is called Tsunami because it is meant to move quickly, but you can rename it as you see fit. [Ed. Note- A writing project by any other name…]

In the ‘Tsunami Writing Challenge’ students are put into groups of four to five. Students watch a short video, provided by the teacher. Each student is then required to write about a specific portion of the video/picture/text. Google Slides are used by students to collaboratively work on the process. Students are provided with a rubric in the slide deck so they can see how their work measures up to expectations.

After they are done with the initial write, the peer review part comes into play. Students grade one another with the rubric and see how they did, what they missed, and what they can improve upon. The rubric gives students a guide in what to write and self-assess, helps them through the peer review process, and has a point system so students (both individually and as a group) can work to earn the most points possible.

It is at this point instruction comes in. Whether this is done on an individual, whole, or small group basis is based on the standard that needs to be met or the struggle that the teacher sees in the writing. The goal is to guide students along in improving their writing.

After instruction, students enter the rewriting phase and make any changes, again using the rubric to self-assess their work, followed by groups totaling their points based on the rewrite and rubric. Students make a group video and the video at the end of the process produced with Doceri, Adobe Spark, or whatever video presentation tool your students are most comfortable using. They can add pictures (again teacher provided) related to their writing and use what they wrote as a narrative script. It’s amazing to see the amount of time students put into their work when it’s peer-reviewed and especially when they are recording their own voice for the video portion. After videos are uploaded, there is a film festival component for students to take pride in their end product.

I have found that this concept transcends all curriculum and grade levels. I began to teach beginning English Learners (EL) this year and the writing challenge has become one of my go-to protocols to get students communicating, collaborating, creating, and thinking critically. I’ve found this to be an essential tool along with Iron Chef, Pecha Kucha, and Sketchnoting, all for the goal of language acquisition. While fast-paced, the process is not a class period or hour-long event, but a process that covers a few days from prewriting to final product. The end product, however, is not only improved writing, but increased student motivation, esteem, and self-expectations as they grow with their writing.


plattDavid Platt (@herrplatt) is a seventeen-year educator in the middle and high school classroom. He is currently a teacher, technology trainer, and student technology (tech squad) leader mentor at Covina High School in Covina, CA. During his time in the classroom, he has taught German language and computer science and recently began working with English language learners. Teaching effective implementation of technology while rethinking the lesson planning process is his continual passion. David is a Google Certified Trainer, Microsoft Innovative Educator, CUE Leader Learner, and Hyperduino Ambassador. He is a board member of SGVCUE, founder of OrganiTECH, and presents at technology conferences throughout California.

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