“Is that the write time?”: Timed writing using MinutesPlease


A while back, I wrote about using a teleprompter as a timed pre-reading tool. Using a timer to help students improve their writing is nothing new and has been shown to be an effective method of assessment. Writing is one of the most difficult tasks for L2 learners to master and can cause them to get caught up in trying to perfect. There are a number of reasons for implementing timed writing in the language classroom.


  • Generate ideas: Students use this time to create ideas that will be used in a longer, more complete writing task.
  • Recalling information: Students are using previously learned information to write instead of relying on what others have written.
  • Planning: Students create a structure that can work as the foundation for later writings.
  • Develop fluency: Students need to write without the aid of a dictionary or translation tool causing them to develop fluency in their thought and writing.
  • Creative thinking: Students need think ‘outside the box’ which causes them to be more creative in their writing.
  • Timer: There are a number of timers that can be used from a simple sand timer to a stopwatch. MinutesPlease is an online tool that closes a webpage after a pre-determined period of time. This causes students to stop together instead of trying to coax them to finish.
  • Online document: There are a number of places to write online for free without having students sign-up or give over personal details. I prefer TitanPad since a class can be set up where individual pages can be password protected.
  • Projector or large display: Anything from a computer and data projector to an IWB can be used.
  1. Go to TitanPad and create a new group by clicking on ‘Get your own private space’, give your site a name, type in your name and email, and then ‘Create team site now’. The site will now email you a link. The link will take you to a page to set a password. Once you click to accept, you will be taken to an admin page where you can click on ‘Create a new pad’ to create a new page for each student. Make sure to set the security to ‘Public’ and give it a password.
  2. Create a new page for each student
  3. Create a class page and copy/paste the URL for each student beside their name on the page. Edit the URL by putting 1.minutesplease.com/ directly after the http:// of the page url. You change the 1 to any number of minutes you want them to write for. Here is an example with the TitanPad group name as nathanhall and the student’s pad name being timed: http://1.minutesplease.com/nathanhall.titanpad.com/timed
  4. Give each student a writing prompt based on a topic you would like the students to write on in length later on. This could be done by typing up a short introduction onto the class page. You could give a link to an image or project at the front of class.
  5. Inform students that they are to write as much as possible without stopping or editing the text until the time is complete. Tell them that the purpose of this exercise is to generate ideas and the first stage in a longer, more refined writing task.
  6. When you say go, students click on the link beside their name and it will open up two tabs or windows in the browser. One tab or window will be the countdown clock and the other will be their writing pad. Students should start writing as soon as the document opens and the page will close once the time is up.
  7. Once the page closes, students should not go back to their writing pad until everyone is done. Once all of the students have completed, put them into pairs or groups to share what they have written. Students could read their writing out loud or students could read their partners’ writing silently. Students should provide feedback to the other students either orally or written. If students are providing written feedback, have them use the chat function on the right side of the pad instead of changing things directly on the page.
  8. Students can then work on writing a more polished piece using the feedback they received.
This task incorporates a number of valuable skills including peer-feedback, listening, writing, and creative thinking. Some students may find the task too stressful, so make sure that you provide detailed instructions and purpose at the beginning of the process. Doing this activity a number of times over longer period will help students gain a better understanding of why they are doing it.

Have you ever used timed writing in the class? How successful was it in helping students formulate ideas? Did you use it as a form of assessment? Please add your comments below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact form found on this website. Thank you!


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