How do you get students engaged into writing? Sometimes this question feels like an exercise in futility, used as for abstract debate for the sake of venting frustration. But there are times when the answer to this question is simple: Make the writing interesting and meaningful.


Some people like to write. Lots of people like to tackle an issue or topic of personal interest. While this concept is simple to focus on, the implementation can feel too complex and frustrating. One solution—I would emphasize this is just one—is using RAFTs as a writing strategy. It creates highly engaging topics, and provides a structure that students can easily understand and teachers can coach writing. RAFTs are also great for differentiating based on diverse skill levels.

RAFTs stands for Role, Audience, Format, Topic + strong verb. Here’s the meaning of each part:

Role: Juliet

Provides a perspective or point of view for the writer. Students use the role as way to connect directly with the content focus.

Audience: Romeo

Gives focus to who the writer is communicating. Being mindful of the audience, teachers can coach students on perspectives to explore that the target audience may be receptive. This leads students to think about word choice and what details will resonate with their audience.

Format: Letter responding to marriage proposal

Provides the medium through which the writer will communicate. The product, when assigned, is usually how the teacher needs to evaluate the work. Sometimes the format is left blank to allow the students to chose the product that appeals to them, such as a podcast, video, story, poem, or some other medium. So long as the academic criteria is clear, the format can be open-ended.

Topic + strong verb: Wedding or Eloping, which could best bring peace to our families?

Communicates to the writer the focus of the RAFT assignment. The topic gives the context for the writing based on the academic outcomes. It creates the scenario or approach towards a real world issue that the students will communicate about. Including a strong verb generates engagement by potentially creating a call to action.

Unit Anticipatory Set

As an opener for a traditional or Project Based Learning (PBL) unit, RAFTs engages students into the big idea and essential learnings to be explored. Crafting a topic that tightly aligns with the learning outcomes gives students context for learning, and opens opportunity for generating students’ need to know more.

Formative Assessment and Feedback

RAFTs make for formative assessment in the middle of a unit. Students demonstrate their understanding that should go beyond the facts to analysis or evaluation of concepts. Used as an individual or small group activity, students process their understandings and connections for deeper knowledge. The results will better prepare them for the later work of the unit. Teachers can use the RAFTS products to give formative feedback to the students to firm up content knowledge, and to coach writing skills.

At the end of a traditional or PBL unit, RAFTs are useful as the final assessment of content knowledge and answering the driving or essential question regarding the big focus of the entire unit. As the final product, students connect the work towards a real world outcome. The key is crafting a topic that pushes students to address an issue within a scenario or for a real world audience. We could revise the Romeo and Juliet example for this purpose:

Focus: Understand how “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare represents the challenges for effective communication and conflict resolution.

Role: Concerned Citizen

Audience: Facebook Monitors and School Community Stakeholders

Format: Letter or recorded multimedia

Topic: Advocate for improved support/awareness against cyber bullying

Once students experience the RAFTs structure and become familiar with it, they embrace it. After awhile, let the students come up with their own Role, Audience, Format, and/or Topic. Or let them develop a combination of certain parts. This gives them voice as to how they want to construct the writing, which increases their buy-in and engagement.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this 3 part series about RAFTs: