Adult Ed
Freewriting: Developing Fluency in Student Writing


OverviewActivities


Activity One: Setting the Stage
Activity Two: Focused Freewriting
Activity Three: Charged Statements
Activity Four: Assertions
Activity Five: Shaping Freewriting


Activity One: Setting the Stage
Freewriting: Freewriting is a cornerstone of the writing process. It is a great way to develop fluency.

Step 1

Writing

There is only one rule with freewriting: you can't stop.
  1. Tell students to put their pen or pencil on the paper and get ready to start. They can write anything they want to write.
  2. If they don't know what to write, they can just write, "I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write…" until an idea comes.
  3. If they get stuck, they can write, "I'm stuck. I'm stuck. I'm stuck…"until an idea comes.
  4. Give students a short set amount of time to write, maybe five minutes (As they get used to freewriting the time can increase.).
  5. Tell students to start writing.
  6. You should write, too, but keep an eye on the class. If your students stop writing, give encouragement and guidance:
    • "If you're stuck, just write 'I am stuck.'"
    • "No erasing allowed."
    • "Just a few more minutes."
  7. Use your judgement to determine how long the class should keep writing. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to get started. If everyone is still writing after five minutes have passed, let the freewriting continue for a few more minutes.
  8. When time is up, tell the class they can stop when they get to the end of the idea or sentence they are writing.

Tip
If you're having students do their first freewriting exercise on an index card, the process may seem less intimidating.

Step 1

Responding to Freewriting

Sometimes students feel very uncertain about what they have written because they didn't do an outline or didn't stop to review and correct every word. Students may need to be coaxed into sharing their writing with the group.
  1. Start off by asking if anyone would like to share their freewriting with the group. Be patient and someone will probably volunteer. As a last resort, you can always read your own.
  2. Ask the writer what he/she thinks of what they wrote before he/she reads it.
  3. Tell the class to listen carefully. After the writer reads, the class will tell the writer what he/she wrote about. That will let the writer know whether their writing makes sense and is clear.
  4. Ask the writer if the class understood what was just read. If the class did understand, remind the student that that means the writing makes sense. If the class's summary was inaccurate, you may want to ask the student to reread the writing sample and explain it.
  5. After modeling this in a whole group, have students break up into small groups. Each student should get a chance to read their writing to the group. Then the group should tell the writer what they just heard.

Tip
Peter Elbow gives a great explanation of freewriting (and many other great techniques) in WRITING WITHOUT TEACHERS. (Don't worry. Despite the title, there is a lot that teachers can do with this book.)


Another Tip
When students are asked to write about their own lives, they should consider the nature of what they are disclosing. I always tell students that I am not interested in matters that are private or too personal. But I do want them to write about something that interests them so that they will be motivated to create a good piece of writing. Students should be aware that there is a good chance they will have to share their writing with at least one other person in the class.


Note
When you ask students to write about their day, be sensitive to the fact that this might be uncomfortable for some of them. If it was a particularly bad day, it might upset a student to write about it. If a student seems really resistant to writing about this topic, suggest that they write about a different day.


Activity Two: Focused Freewriting

Once students get a little bit of freewriting under their belts, they can move on to "focused freewriting." Focused freewriting can be very helpful in generating topics for future writing or for first drafts of essays. Here are three steps that move students from freewriting toward essay writing.

Step 1

Starting to Focus

The focus can be loose at first. Start off with a word or phrase that will give the writing some shape. Words like these:
  • Love
  • New York City
  • Television
  • Family
  • Children
  • Money
  • Friends
  • Food
  • Kindness
  1. Have students follow the same instructions as above with one adjustment: write ideas related to the "topic." There is still only one rule: No stopping.
  2. If they don't know what to write about their selected topic, they can just write, "I don't know what to write about money. I don't know what to write about money…" until an idea comes.
  3. If they get stuck, they can write, "I'm stuck. I'm stuck. I'm stuck…"until an idea comes.
  4. You should write, too, but keep an eye on the class. If students stop writing, offer encouragement and guidance:
    • "If you're stuck, just write 'I am stuck.'"
    • "No erasing allowed."
    • "Just a few more minutes."
  5. When time is up, tell the class they can stop when they get to the end of the idea or sentence they are writing.
Step 1

Responding to Focused Freewriting

This process is similar to responding to all freewriting:
  1. Start off by asking if anyone would like to share their freewriting with the group. Be patient and someone will probably volunteer. As a last resort, you can always read your own.
  2. Ask the writer what he/she thinks of what they wrote before he/she reads it.
  3. Tell the class to listen carefully. After the writer reads, the class will tell the writer what he/she wrote about. That will let the writer know whether their writing makes sense and is clear.
  4. Ask the class to recall what the writer said about the topic.
  5. Ask the writer to select the ideas in his/her writing that he/she thinks are most important or interesting.
  6. After modeling this in a whole group, have students break up into small groups. Each student should get a chance to read their writing to the group. Then the group should tell the writer what they just heard about the topic. The writer should be asked what the most important or interesting idea in the freewriting is.

Activity Three: Charged Statements

Step 1This activity takes students one step closer to presenting an argument. You will go through the same process as above, but with a different cue.
  1. Write one or two "charged statements" on the board. Charged statements are really just old sayings, adages, or epigrams. Here are a few examples:
    • "Money doesn't buy happiness."
    • "Time heals everything."
    • "Cheaters never prosper."
    • "A friend in need is a friend indeed."
    • "Haste makes waste."
    • "Honesty is the best policy."
    • "Practice makes perfect."
    • "Beauty is only skin deep."
    • "A good man/woman is hard to find."
  2. Take a few minutes to discuss the statements with the class. Ask them what they mean.

Note
Be aware that these old sayings may not be familiar to everyone. "Don't cry over spilt milk" may not be a phrase everyone knows. This might be an opportunity for students to learn about these idiomatic expressions, but if the phrases are too new and strange to them, they won't be able to write much about them.



  1. Go through the freewriting process as in Activity Two.
    • Ask for a volunteer to read his/her writing to the group. Ask the group to listen for the writer's opinions and feelings about the charged statement. Does the writer agree or disagree with the statement? Does the writer have strong feelings?
    • After the class responds, ask the writer if the class's impression is accurate.
    • Break the class into smaller groups and repeat the response process.


Activity Four: Assertions

In this activity, the class gets very close to writing argumentative essays. The focused freewriting they do here may not have the structure or polish needed for an argumentative essay. But it does give students an opportunity to express arguments in writing.
  1. Start off by writing two "agree or disagree" statements on the blackboard. You have probably seen statements of this nature a million times:
    • Parents should never lie to their children.
    • Children should never be beaten.
    • Police officers should not carry guns.
    • Violence should never be the solution to a problem.
    • The death penalty should be abolished.
    • More tax dollars should be spent on the military.
    • Students should get more tests in school.
    • If drugs were legalized, we would have less crime.
    • Sometimes breaking the law is justified.
  2. Have students do a focused freewriting exercise on the statements. This is the same process as the process described in Activity Two, but the statements you select should generate writing that is even more focused.
  3. Go through the response process, as in Activity Two, but with greater emphasis on reporting on the writer's opinion.

Activity Five: Shaping Freewriting

In this activity, students work with their freewriting and develop it into a more polished final product. Freewriting is an exercise that builds fluency. There should never be an obligation to go further with a piece of freewriting. However, freewriting often contains ideas, stories, examples, and opinions that can be further developed. Have students save their freewriting. After they have at least six samples of freewriting, they should be ready to review and develop some of their work further.

Step 1

Reviewing Previous Freewriting Samples

Have students review their freewriting to find ideas, passages, or even a whole freewriting exercise that they would like to develop further.

Step 2

Starting a New Piece of Writing Based on a Freewriting Exercise

There is flexibility here. Sometimes freewriting ends up as an essay. Sometimes it's rambling and disjointed. The freewriting may be a pretty good first draft or it may be a prewriting exercise. If it's a prewriting exercise, students can start fresh, using the ideas they started with in their freewriting without actually revising it.

Step 3

Responding to the New Piece of Writing

Once students write a draft of an essay, respond to it as you would any other first draft. Small groups and peer response is recommended.

Extensions

Freewriting can be used in just about any educational setting. Once students get the concept of freewriting, it can be used in many ways:
  • Start some of your classes with freewriting. It can serve as a good warmup and will help students focus.
  • Use focused freewriting to review material covered in prior classes.
  • Use focused freewriting to review the content of a lesson or a topic.