One way to help students demonstrate their understanding is by using a writing task known to some as a RAFT. I think the first time I heard of RAFT by that name was in a graduate PLN course, but I had been assigning students writing tasks from various points of view in my English classes for years prior to taking the course.

In fact, one of my all-time favorite writing activities was to have students write journal entries from characters’ points of view while reading novels; for example, my middle school students had the option of writing the stabbing scene in S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders from the fountain’s or a Soc’s point of view, and my high school students had the option of writing a journal from Boo Radley’s point of view as a To Kill a Mockingbird end-of-novel project. (This was commonly how I taught academic vocabulary, by putting students in the driver’s seat with the terms and concepts. What is third-person omniscient point of view? Write a journal entry using it, instead of memorizing it for a matching quiz or multiple-choice question on a test.)

RAFT is not just for the English classroom, though. RAFT may be used in nearly any grade with students of any ability level in any subject area. It’s a perfectly customizable writing solution.

What is it? For starters, RAFT stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Task (although I know some teachers who have changed the letters to better fit their purposes in their classrooms). The gist of RAFT is getting students to describe, explain, explore, etc. a concept or a process by writing about it from a certain role: any role other than their true-life student role will do. They must consider their Audience, so they use the appropriate tone and word choice. They also have to follow the assigned Format – letter, memo, email, speech, etc. – and complete the Task, which is the actual assignment itself.

In my English classroom, a typical RAFT would look like this:

Role: You are either a mother/father OR you are a minor who is your current age, during the Great Depression
Audience: You are writing to your children OR you are writing to your parents
Format: A letter
Task: Write a letter to your children or your parents explaining your choices during these trying times. To kick-start your thinking, consider these questions: What are your toughest challenges? What have you done to help your family? What were you thinking while making these decisions? What are your hopes for the future? Complete you letter with specific details and thorough explanation, in paragraph form.

As I’ve been stressing in TRUTH In Teaching blog and Writing Resources, it’s important to give students a choice in their writing assignments. The core of the assignment remains the same, and you are free to use the same scoring criteria regardless of which choice the students make. It’s also important to avoid giving students set numbers (sentences per paragraph, paragraphs per letter, etc.) for their drafts, so that students concentrate more on focusing, organizing, and supporting their thoughts than about how long their writing needs to be.

As with any assignment, make sure students have the necessary background information before giving them a RAFT. I would have used this type of RAFT near the middle to end of our time spent learning the Great Depression. I particularly liked to use these before the end of the unit, because if the students’ final drafts revealed some missing enduring understandings, I had time to make sure students got them before moving on to our next theme.

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