The 11 Minute Essay

A Campus Wide Writing Initiative: Two Essays Per Six Weeks

Let's Try It!

I'll be taking you through the steps; all you need to do is listen, think, and write!

11-Min Essay Info & Example

What did you think?

Turn & Talk:

1. What surprised you about writing this way?

2. What about this kind of writing challenged you?

3. What about this kind of writing helped you?

How Do I Come Up with Prompts?

Most 11-Minute Essays are build on truisms: statements that are so obvious or universally known that everyone can relate to them. You can probably come up with many of these on your own (like I did), or you can choose one from Gretchen Bernabei's collection of visual prompts.

This is the basic structure for every 11-Minute Essay:

Big picture

And, as you saw when you wrote your own 11-Minute Essay, the minutes were broken down like this:

  1. Students react to the truism = 1 minute
  2. Students connect their belief about this truism to something they've read = 3 minutes
  3. Students connect their belief about this truism to something they've seen in a movie or show = 3 minutes
  4. Students connect their belief about this truism to something they've personally experienced = 3 minutes
  5. Students elaborate on the significance of this truism = 1 minute

My favorite thing about the 11-Minute Essay is that it really only requires two things:

  1. Students must write in short, timed bursts.
  2. Students must be given a structure in which to write.

And that's it! So, once you've tried this basic 11-Minute Essay structure, you can - and should! - feel free to explore other possibilities!

Check out the wealth of essay structures on Bernabei's website to support every content area:

For any of these structures - or for any others you might create - you would simply need to set time limits for students as they write. Generating ideas in timed situations is a tough skill, and our students need as much practice with it as they can get!

So How Am I Supposed to Grade These?

Thankfully, Gretchen Bernabei has a super simple rubric for these essays!

It's easy to understand and use, so I think this is a perfect opportunity to allow students to peer and self assess.

Campus Expectations


  • Students will engage in writing practices daily, throughout the school day, in every content area.
  • Students will write two essays per six weeks in all content areas.


  • These essays should be reviewed during PLC time in Week 3 and Week 5 of the six weeks, to compare students' overall comprehension of the skills & information assessed.
  • During PLC time, departments should consider how to support students who still need support and instruction over certain concepts and build this into upcoming lessons.