More 11-Minute Essays (In 10 Minutes)

Last year I blogged about our 11-minute essays inspired by the one and only: Gretchen Bernabei.  My kids loved it SO much, and it really helped them see that they could write A LOT in a very short amount of time.

So…it’s only fitting that I carry on the tradition this year, too.  I used the same truism picture as I did with my kids for the first time last year.  You can download a copy (FREE!) of 70 pictures with truisms…in English AND Spanish…by clicking here.  We used #11: Pets can be a big part of a family.

Because 4th graders don’t have the knowledge or experiences of most kids in junior high (which is what Gretchen teaches), I modified her 11-minute essay to fit their needs.

HERE ARE 4 SAMPLES FROM OUR FIRST ATTEMPT AT A 10 MINUTE ESSAY.  Remember: They have not been revised…it’s just a quick 10 minute piece of writing!  😉

Step #1: Talk to students about truisms. (These are the sentences under the pictures.)  Truisms are statements that are generally true in most situations.  Even if it isn’t true for you, there are many other people in the world who agree with a truism.

Step #2: Once you’ve chosen the truism you want your kids to write about, project it on the board.  Tell them to look at it and begin to think about what it says.  Their job will be to tell you how they know this is true.

Step #3: Give students 2 minutes to write only about the truism itself.  They should give information about the truism, or they may simply copy the truism.  When time gets to about 15 seconds, tell students to wrap up what they are saying.  As the timer goes off, tell them to finish the sentence where they are, and remember to put a punctuation mark at the end.

Step #4:  Tell students to drop down to the next line and indent for the next paragraph.  Give students 3 minutes to write about how this is true in their own life or in a book they have read.  I like to let them know when they have 2 minutes, 1 minute, and 30 seconds left.  Repeat the wrap up warning and punctuation reminder when time is up.

Step #5: Tell students to drop down to the next line and indent for the next paragraph.  Give students 3 minutes to write about how this is true in a movie or a TV show they have watched.  Repeat warnings and reminders.

Step #6: Tell students to drop down to the next line for the last paragraph.  Give students 2 minutes to write about what this makes them think or wonder.

Step #7: Have students count their words and write the number at the top and circle it.

And there you have it…a 10 minute expository essay!

What does this do for your kids?  Well…lots of things.  For one, it helps them to see that it doesn’t take TWO WHOLE WEEKS to produce a nice piece of writing.  Yeah…some kids will write more for you in that 10 minutes than they’ve written…EVER!  Gotta love that!

It gives them some practice with writing an expository piece.  And even though they may not have realized it as they were going, they are writing from a text structure: Truism –> How it’s true in my life/book –> How it’s true in a movie/TV show –> This makes me think…

This activity helps them to build confidence in themselves.

How many words did you just write in 10 minutes?  Over 100?  WHAT?  Yeah…that’s a pretty cool feeling.  And the more you do it…the more they write.  It becomes a competition within themselves to see how many more words they can write each time.  And inevitably, a class competition to see who can write the MOST words of all!  :)

But most importantly, the kids enjoy it and have fun with it.  And that’s what writing is all about, right?!?!


Have you ever used this activity with your kids?  If so, I would LOVE to hear about it.  How is it similar?  Different?  Leave a comment below to let everyone know how this works in YOUR classroom!

If you ever have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or email me or find me on Facebook and message me.  I love hearing from you!

Until next time…



  1. Amanda Gray says:

    I love your ideas! I am constantly sharing them with my team. I am going to try this next week with my students, but I have some questions. Do you go back and revise the writing piece, and focus on descriptive writing (did they use ba-da-bings, pitchforking, etc)? Do you have any inclusion or ESL students in your class, and if so, how do you accommodate them (I’m thinking they will need more thinking time and won’t be able to accomplish a 10 min. essay).

    I’m excited to try this! Thank you for always having such great ideas!!!

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Amanda! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

      As far as going back and revising and editing…it just depends. Sometimes i do this as a rough draft when we are running short on time and i need them to just get it done. Other times we do it just for fun. If it becomes a rough draft, then yes, we go back and do our thing to it. If it’s for fun, then no.

      Yes, I have all kinds of kids, and no, i don’t modify for them. They go with the flow and do what everyone else is doing. Honestly…I had a student last year who was in the room for our writing time but had a modified curriculum…and he wrote MORE during our timed writing han he would in two whole weeks! So…yeah…I have ALL students attempt it! :)

      Thanks for your questions! Let me know if there is anything else I can answer for ya!

      • Thank you so much for responding so quickly! I’m excited to try this! I’ll let you know how it goes next week! :)

    • Paige Trahan says:

      Great questions! Would love to hear the feedback!

  2. Wow! I am so impressed with this writing activity. My students produced some great essays. Thank you so much.

  3. Michelle Taylor says:

    I love your blog and since I am the only 4th grade writing teacher on our small campus, I love seeing your ideas. It makes me feel like I have a partner. Do you have any inside info about what we can expect for STAAR writing now that it has been reduced to one day? Do you think we will know if it will be narrative or expository?

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Michelle! Yes, we are in this together!!

      I do NOT have any insight into what the test will be like this year…so we are in that same boat, too! Believe me, when I know something, I will definitely post it! I usually am better about posting to my Fb page first, so if you aren’t following me there, head on over and do that. :)

      Best wishes for an awesome year!!

  4. I look at your blog before every Gretchen lesson! I appreciate the time you have set aside to help first year 4th grade writing teachers like myself. I couldn’t do it without you. I feel the same as the teacher above; you help me feel like I have a partner in this crazy journey! Thanks again for sharing your work. You’re wonderful!

  5. I love this lesson. I plan on trying it this week!

    I do have one questions. Do you suggest using Ba-Da-Bings in your introduction?

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