Classroom Technology

Don’t Ban ChatGPT in Writing Assignments. Try This Instead

By Arianna Prothero — June 27, 2023 3 min read
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ChatGPT has caused a lot of concerns for educators over policing students’ use of it—especially when it comes to writing assignments.

At first glance, generative AI appeared to be the super villain of cheating tools: It can produce an essay on almost any topic within seconds of receiving a prompt. Some teachers and entire school districts have decided to fight back by banning students from using ChatGPT in their classes.

But that’s the wrong mindset, argues Holly Clark, a middle school English teacher, speaker, and author of the book, The AI Infused Classroom.

“We have people saying, ‘I’m shutting my classroom down—kids are only writing essays in here,’” she said in a presentation at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference in Philadelphia on June 26. “If people are saying, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to use it or not use it,’ the question has already been answered. Because whether or not you choose to use it, kids will.”

Even so, there are growing concerns about the use of artificial intelligence. In an open letter posted on the Future of Life Institute, tech luminaries and prominent researchers, such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Berkeley computer science professor Stuart Russell, are calling for tech companies to temporarily hit the brakes on the development of AI technologies. They say even the developers of these technologies are not aware of their potential downsides.

Education experts are especially concerned about how AI will compromise student data privacy. They also are worried that students will not learn how to write well if they rely too much on technology tools like ChatGPT.

But even with those concerns, Clark argues that teachers need to see the opportunities that generative AI tools like ChatGPT open up for learning—as well as the consequences of not teaching students how to use the technology.

Generative AI is poised to reshape the economy and many jobs with it, Clark said, and students need to be fluent in using it, such as by crafting prompts to produce the best responses from generative AI. English class is a prime place for students to learn to be prompt engineers, she said.

“A kindergartener who enters school this year will graduate in 2036, and college in 2040,” she said. “That kindergartener will be using ChatGPT [version] 109, and it probably won’t be a chatbot anymore.”

How to use ChatGPT to teach writing

Teachers can use ChatGPT to help their students develop a story as a class. Clark developed an exercise for a 2nd grade class where the teacher divided students into small groups, and each group had to pick one element for the story—such as the main character, the setting, the theme, and the conflict. The teacher then fed those elements into ChatGPT with this prompt: “you are a children’s book author, write a very short story for an audience of 2nd graders, using these elements.”

If this sounds like too complicated of an exercise for 2nd graders, Clark thought it might be, too. But she said the students she worked with embraced the exercise.

Students discussed whether the various elements worked together in the story that ChatGPT wrote and then rewrote it. This is an exercise Clark said could work for a variety of grade levels.

Clark has also used ChatGPT to help her students prepare for exams in other subjects. She divides them into groups to write an essay answer to a question. Each group has a different resource they can use—one group can only use their group members, another group can use the textbook, a third group can use the internet to write their short essay, and the last group gets to use ChatGPT. At the end, she presents the class with the four essays anonymously, and students must guess which answer came from ChatGPT.

There are a variety of ways students can use ChatGPT throughout the writing process that Clark said teachers should encourage, especially for older students. Those approaches include brainstorming ideas, improving their vocabulary, generating opposing viewpoints, and editing their work before handing it in.

Clark also recommends that teachers use ChatGPT to help with their lesson planning by giving the chatbot prompts such as, “what are 10 takeaways for students from the reading?” “What are some ways I can teach equity using this book?” “And what are viewpoints missing from this book?”


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