An Idea: Drag and Drop to Reconstruct an Essay
A couple weeks ago, I was working on a lesson to help my students with their writing. My thinking was simple – I’d give them an essay, shuffle all the bits together, and then let them sort it out. I knew what I wanted to do, and I assumed that I’d be able to find a website to help me put the activity together.
Well, to my dismay, I couldn’t. I found something that let you jumble the words in a sentence, but I couldn’t find anything (simple) for full length paragraphs or essays. On a whim, I decided to try putting together a webpage that would actually do exactly what I wanted.
You can see a functional demo here. If you’re curious about the technical stuff, I was able to use the jQuery framework to do exactly what I wanted. The jQuery UI has built-in drag and drop functionality. You can drag items from one list and drop them in another, and you can also create blank lists as targets for this dropping. It took a few hours of playing around, but by the end of the night I had something that was useable, if unrefined and unpolished.
So How’d It Go?
Here’s a quick rundown of the day’s lesson.
I used the activity in my last US II class of the day, which is usually small. There happened to be 8 (of 12) kids present that day. The day’s Do Now question asked students about strategies for solving jig saw puzzles, and we quickly discussed those responses. Then, I took about two minutes to demo how to do the activity and I made connections to some of the strategies for solving jigsaw puzzles (i.e. grouping things by topic, building a border/outline first). The kids then paired up, and they spent about a half hour playing with the activity trying to reconstruct the essay.
On the up side, I didn’t have any technical problems. The interface was very intuitive, and the kids had no trouble dragging items from one side to the other and placing them where they wanted them.
On the down side, it was a bit overwhelming. I initially shuffled the entire sample essay together (intro, conclusion, and three body paragraphs) in one pool of sentences. This made it difficult to sort out what should be in the intro and what should be in the body. I didn’t realize until I saw the kids working on it just how confusing that might be. I ended up revising the activity before I re-used it in my other classes, separating out the intro, the body, and the conclusion.
Although this problem slowed the students down quite a bit, three of the four groups were able to do a pretty good job of picking out the thesis, the topic sentences, and starting to build the essay. Floating around the room, I was able to have some great conversations with students about the structure of the essay – like which sentences were good topic sentences and which sentences did or didn’t belong in a specific paragraph.
In the last few minutes, I wrapped up as a whole group and had each pair identify a topic sentence of one of the body paragraphs or the thesis of the essay.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Over the course of the week, I plan to write a few posts about this activity. Specifically, I want to talk about:
- How I modified it based on my actual experience using it
- The underlying technology, and why I like it
- How it could scale up to a larger, re-usable web application
- How the principles and technology could be used to develop other types of learning activities
If you want to follow the series, subscribe to the site’s RSS feed.
More importantly, I’d love to hear from other teachers about a) what you think about the concept and b) where you’d go with it. The actual demo is very basic and not very pretty. But hopefully you can see the idea and some potential.
If you could just wave a magic wand and create an interactive website that let’s kids drag and drop things around the screen to organize and re-order them, what kind of skills would you focus on and what would this website look like?
Image credit: Puzzle I by spekulator at sxc.hu.