Open Response Writing


Supporting Open Response and Short Answer Writing in Our Classrooms
Students may struggle to successfully tackle open response writing for a variety of reasons, including the following:
    • Students do not understand test question vocabulary, referred to as general academic vocabulary in the common core standards, including words like explain, describe, label, etc.
    • Students do not understand the expectations of each kind of test question.
    • Students do not support their responses with sufficient details.
    • Students do not use content vocabulary in their responses.
    • Students lack the stamina to successfully answer all kinds of questions.
We can help address these obstacles by providing regular, explicit modeling, instruction, and intervention for open response writing in our classrooms. Use the following released MCAS item resources, along with any other open response tools appropriate to your grade level, to assess open response writing once per week throughout the school year. These resources will be continually updated to include additional MCAS years as well as other resources used by our educators to support open response writing.

Our Teaching Methods for Open Response are Critical to Student Success
Students learn best with explicit modeling and guided practice. This is especially true for struggling learners. It is unlikely to see growth by "telling" students how to construct a more effective open response. Educators need to provide explicit modeling to "show" rather than "tell" how proficient open responses are crafted. This will likely require multiple "mini lessons" or whole-class instruction. A mini lesson series on open response might resemble the following:

Mini Lesson #1: Writers tackle the passage first before responding to text. 
  1. Gather the whole class for a mini lesson on the rug.
  2. Project a sample reading passage and open response question using the Elmo or SmartBoard.
  3. Model your thinking aloud as you highlight key details in the text that relate to the question. This might sound like, "Watch me as I think aloud and highlight key details in the text. Hmm...this sentence seems important because it contains the words...and I know that...I will highlight this phrase so I remember to include it in my response." Repeat a few times.
  4. Next, ask the students to "turn and talk" about another area of the passage they think you should highlight. Provide a few minutes for the turn and talk and then invite suggestions from the pairs.
  5. Next, instruct your students to practice the skill independently "Now, you will practice the same strategy independently as you go to read the same text at your seat and highlight the important key details in the text. Remember, good writers highlight five key details related to the question before responding to text." 
  6. The students work independently on replicating the strategy (e.g., highlighting five key details) not in pairs or small groups as this can mask difficulties for individuals.
  7. As student work independently, confer with individual students to check for understanding and provide intervention when necessary. 
  8. Wrap up by having students share the important details they found in the text with the whole class.

Mini Lesson #2: Good writers collect their key details as they write their open responses. 
    1. Connect the learning to the previous mini lesson: "Yesterday we explored how good writers highlight five key details before responding to text. Today, we will explore how writers respond to a question about the text using their five key details."
    2. Project the same open response question on the Elmo or SmartBoard again and model your thinking aloud as you read the question. Example: "Watch me as I read the question carefully. I'll read the question closely two or three times: Based on the poem, explain how both the dog and the squirrel show confidence. Support your answer with important details from the poem." Model your thinking about the text aloud as you reread.
    3. Next, project the reading passage from the previous mini lesson that still shows highlighted details. 
    4. On the board, model the writing of a response using the highlighted details. Your original writing will take the students through each step of your thought process. Be sure to think aloud as you "collect" your highlighted details and incorporate them into your response. This is critical so students are taught to construct the response, not passively view a pre-written response or exemplar. You do not need to construct the entire response as students will begin to understand your strategy as you go.
    5. Once you have modeled some of the response construction, project a student exemplar that correlates to the prompt (e.g., from the DESE site). Ask the students to turn and talk about whether or not the exemplar includes five key details. Show another exemplar that exceeds or fails to meet standards. Ask the students to turn and talk again about the quality of the response.
    6. Next, release the students to independent writing by saying something like "Now, as you practice constructing your own response to this question independently, I want you to remember that good writers read and reread the question and collect their five details from the passage."
    7. As the students work independently, confer with individuals to check for understanding and provide intervention where necessary. 
Ongoing lessons might focus next on ensuring topic and summary sentences or other critical components of open response. Once mini lessons like these have been implemented, the teacher may not need to replicate them for the whole class unless data shows that numerous students are not adequately applying the strategies. If this occurs, the mini lessons should be repeated with new passages and questions. 

The mini lessons must be repeated for students who do not apply the strategies adequately. This intervention, or reteaching, should occur in small-group lessons or 1:1 conferring. Weekly scoring of new questions (using the modified DESE rubric) will tell the teacher which students should be in the small groups or conferring sessions for these lessons. 

These are just sample lessons and many other focal points, strategies, and skills could apply (e.g., evidence sandwich). However, the common critical element is the pedagogy flow: model, co-construct exemplars, practice independently, intervene in small groups or 1:1, repeat. "Telling," "discussing," "working in pairs," and showing exemplars after the fact will not help student who struggle with open response. 

  • Grade Three 2012 Items
  • Grade Four 2012 Items
  • Grade Five 2012 Items

  • Grade Six 2012 Items

  • Grade Seven 2012 Items

  • Grade Eight 2012 Items

  • Grade Three 2013 Items
Question 11
Question 11 Reading Passage
Question 11 Rubric
Question 11 Exemplar
Question 11 Exemplar

Question 18
Question 18 Reading Passage
Question 18 Rubric
Question 18 Exemplar
Question 18 Exemplar
  • Grade Four 2013 Items

  • Grade Five 2013 Items

  • Grade Six 2013 Items

  • Grade Seven 2013 Items

  • Grade Eight 2013 Items