Minute Papers: Short Sprints


As writing teachers, we have many different writing assignments of varying length. Students write timed essays, five-paragraph essays, formal research papers, poetry, and creative non-fiction. My classroom, for instance, included marathon-length research papers, a half marathon of a literary analysis, and a group-drafted rhetorical analysis project that is best described as a relay. But before I discovered Minute Papers, my classroom was missing a sprint.

In a track meet, the sprint events are my favorite. They are short, exciting bursts of

Image via The Toledo Blade

athletic prowess that get me on my feet and craning my neck to see who finishes first. These are the events that the crowd loves.

To run my students through the track meet that is a school year and to not provide the excitement of the sprint events would be a disservice to their writing muscles.


  1. You must write for the entirety of the race (usually 2-4 minutes).
  2. You must stay in your lane. No disrupting other sprinters.
  3. Finish strong! Don’t give up in the last 10 yards of the race.


The idea behind Minute Papers is neither extraordinary nor groundbreaking. Instead, Minute Papers operate under the notion that creativity arrives in bursts, and writers must exploit the bursts when they arrive. Students who can train their writing muscles to sprint when they encounter these bursts will find that their writer’s toolbox has a newfound set of tools.


I have found that the most successful prompts are written as questions, and they include a piece of mandatory content. For example:

What was that noise? Use visual and auditory imagery in your response.

Who is to blame for the Salem Witch Trials? Use the idea of innocence in your response.

How does a person successfully speak truth to power? Mention a fictitious world leader in your response.

After reading Robert Pirsig’s novel, what do you think “quality” is? Use a metaphor in your response.

By providing a question and a piece of mandatory content, students have a direction and a “first step” for their sprint. They are in charge of the sprint, I have merely provided the track and the finish line.

A Final Admission

I know that student choice is valuable and engaging, but I have found that providing multiple prompts adds an unnecessary complication to the Minute Papers. This is a short sprint that is meant to help students harness their creativity. To provide multiple prompts for a 2-minute paper would be to ask sprinters to run 100 yards and provide them with 4 finish lines.

What I Like

I like that Minute Papers can be used as formative assessments.

I like that Minute Papers can lead to large-group discussions.

I like that Minute Papers can be crumpled, thrown across the room, and picked up by another student.

I like that Minute Papers ask students to recognize even the faintest glimmer of creativity and to chase after it.


How do you provide opportunities for sprinting in your classroom? What do you like about these small moments that yield large rewards? You can connect with me on Twitter @MGriesinger or on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters.

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