Thursday Papers

A twist on journal assignments that'll boost the confidence of even the most fearful writers.

By Mollie Moore

stack of papers

You’re about to announce a written assignment and could likely accurately predict the responses you’re about to receive. A fair number of faces are about to drop, if not share their disapproval verbally. At least several pairs of eyes will reflect fear. Only a small number of teenagers before you, if any, will remain unaffected or, even more unlikely, appear excited. You can’t help but feel discouraged even just anticipating the scene.

What can be done to remedy this common scenario faced by English and literature teachers everywhere? Thursday papers. The idea came from my master teacher during my student teaching, and I watched it transform the attitudes of dozens of stubborn, resistant high schoolers from refusing to try, to willing to prolifically write pages in response to a piece of literature.

The Thursday Paper Assignment

The assignment is as follows:

  • Every Thursday, a two-page paper (2 full pages) is due for credit—not a grade—on a given topic
  • There are no guidelines or parameters except that it must be original work written the week it is assigned (no recycled or plagiarized papers)
  • The goal, of course, is to help students develop into natural writers, comfortable when presented with a blank page and a prompt.

Here’s the catch: come Thursday (or whatever predetermined day you choose), the entire class, teacher included, will circle up, pass and read each other’s papers for any number of minutes you allot. This accomplishes a few things:

  • First, it holds everyone accountable for completing the assignment
  • Second, it helps students to get to know one another
  • Third, it challenges young writers to allow others to read their work and thus grow out of the fear of others seeing their minds on paper

A few sample topics include “beautiful pain,” someone who has influenced you, and how you do or don’t identify with the protagonist in our current piece of literature.

Discussion Questions:

  • Have you encountered success or faced particular challenges in giving students similar journal-type writing assignments?
  • How do you think your class might grow from an assignment like Thursday papers?
  • What pitfalls do you foresee arising?
  • Would you share any topic ideas you have for such an assignment as this?