Discovery Writing

The Need for Writing

As I began planning my unit for The Crucible, I reflected upon previous years and noted the nearly complete lack of writing. Traditionally, the unit is taught as a close reading/character analysis unit with a strong focus on allegory and character complexity. However, I wanted to change that. I wanted a unit that would allow for deep and purposeful writing that led to ideas essential to the text. One of those essential ideas is Abigail Williams’s loss of childhood innocence, and my students reflected on this idea through Discovery Writing.

Discovery Writing

The idea of Discovery Writing came from the notion that self-directed writing often leads to personal truths. As learners, we are not looking for universal, capital-T Truth. Instead,

Students engaged in Discovery Writing

we are looking for personal, and oftentimes conflicting, lower-case-t truths. A great way to illustrate this lies in the difference between denotation and connotation. We are not concerned with Webster’s definition of Childhood Innocence. Instead, we are interested in what Childhood Innocence means to each student; we are interested in how they have come to realize and understand this meaning and what they are going to do with this personal truth.

The Only Rule

Students may only read, write, view, or listen for the entirety of the hour.

The Prompt

Demonstrate what Childhood Innocence means to you.

The Set-Up

  1. Provide students with a stockpile of resources. And I mean stockpile. Not a collection, assortment, cluster, or accumulation. Your role as the guide on this journey of self-discovery is to beat Google.
  2. Preview the learning task with a brief discussion about the nature of Truth and truths. Students need to know that they are not aiming for universal correctness or ideas that fit others’ conceptions of the main idea. Today is a day for freedom of thinking, freedom of knowledge, and freedom of expression.

The Theory

What lies behind this method of instruction is a student’s need for authenticity. As writers, my students crave real and deliberate opportunities to discover what is happening on the inside of their skulls. Never before have I encountered a group that loves the word metacognition more than I do, but they are here in Northern Michigan. Thus, while their vigor provides professional challenges, the products that are created demonstrate true learning.

Stellar Products

A fictionalized diary containing seventeen entries (Abigail Williams is 17-years old) belonging to Abigail on each of her birthdays chronicling the path of her lost innocence.

A manuscript for a news report about a young girl named Childhood Innocence and her abduction (Childhood Innocence was literally lost). The student used articles about the psychological trauma of kidnapping victims to create a fictional news story.

A seemingly boring, but truly mesmerizing five-paragraph essay analyzing the rhetorical devices used in a series of articles by Neil Gaiman including the argument that Coraline is actually a roman à clef for the student’s own life.

Abigail Williams, John Proctor, and Elizabeth Proctor

And, my favorite, a trio of students left the room, returned just before the bell, and performed a tableau of John Proctor, Abigail Williams, and Elizabeth Proctor in different stages of innocence.


Overall, this exercise allowed students to engage with a multitude of texts and to create their own texts that were personally meaningful. In short, by acting as a guide on their experience, I was able to see students create truly differentiated products that demonstrated their own truths.

– Matt

How do you guide your students in truth discovery? How do you create writing experiences that are self directed and discovery based? You can connect with me on Twitter @MGriesinger or on Facebook at

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