Adult Ed
Getting Started: Pre-Writing Techniques


Activity One: Setting the Stage
Activity Two: Drawing and Writing
Activity Three: Photo Collages and Writing
Activity Four: Diagrams
Activity Five: Culminating Activity

Activity One: Setting the Stage

These introductory activities should help your students get motivated to write.

Step 1Question One:
“Why Is Writing Important?”

Brainstorm as a whole group on the blackboard. If students need help coming up with contributions to the brainstorm, ask them to consider when and where people write in real life. You can even play “devil’s advocate” a little bit. Ask students how they would respond to someone who said that they didn’t need to know how to write to succeed in life.

Try to get as much up on the board as you can, without stopping to discuss each contribution. Remember, it’s brainstorming. After you have completed the list, go back over it and discuss any items of interest.

Step 1 Question Two:
“What’s Hard About Writing?”

Repeat this process with Question Two.

Brainstorm and then discuss.

(There is an assumption here that “getting started” or “figuring out what to write about” will come up during this brainstorming. If it does, that’s a good lead in for the lessons that follow)

Activity Two: Drawing and Writing

A Few Notes
--Although these lessons plan are written for Basic Education students, they can also work well for ESOL students. ESOL students can do the writing as explained here, or they can just talk about their pictures to practice using English.

--For very beginning students, this is the end product. Drawing the picture, labeling it, and writing notes around it is plenty of literacy for a beginning writer.

--As always, when you ask students to write about their personal experiences, make sure there is lots of flexibility. Asking students to write about “my family” sounds simple enough, but we never know what is going on with someone’s family. It’s good to give options. Also, I often say to students, “ I am not interested in your personal business. I just want you to become a better writer and you will become a better writer if you are writing about something that matters to you.”

Step 1Tell students that you know they are not in an art class. Make sure they know that you are going to use drawing as a way to help with writing. It doesn’t matter if they can’t draw very well. If you happen to be a bad artist yourself, let them know that.

Step 2Start off with a topic you have chosen. There are many topics that can work for this exercise: my favorite place, a time when I was happy, something I will never forget, the best thing that ever happened to me, a place where I have lived, and something I like to do are a few examples. Be sensitive to topics that could be unpleasant for some students. “Draw a picture of your home” sounds simple enough, but you never know what their situation is. I try to pick topics that have some flexibility. That’s why I think “A place where I have lived” is a better topic. It allows writers to avoid writing about something they just don’t want to get into.

Step 3Show the class a drawing you have done based on the topic. Explain it briefly.

Step 4Have each person in the class do a drawing based on the topic. Tell them they will have ten minutes to make their drawings. (Students who finish early can start labeling or writing explanations of their drawings)

Step 5Break students up into pairs or small groups and have them explain their drawings to each other.

Step 6 Ask for volunteers to explain their drawing to the whole group.

Step 7Use your drawing to demonstrate how to label and annotate a drawing. “This is my mom coming home from work,” “This is a stuffed dog my sister had. Her name was Trixie (the dog, not my sister).”

Step 8Have students add words, labels, and notes to their drawings.

Step 9At this point, more advanced writers will be ready to move on. Have students write a longer piece based on all or part of their drawing. If your students are more beginning, you may be better off thinking of the drawings as the finished products.

Step 10 Display the drawings and any pieces of writing the students did on the walls of your classroom.

Activity Three: Photo Collages and Writing

Step 1Show students a collage you have made from pictures out of magazines or newspapers. Your collage can have a theme or a topic, or it can be more eclectic. It’s great if your collage tells a story. For example, “This collage is about a family. There is a mother a grandmother and three children in this family. The mother works at a hospital. The children all go to school….” Tell the class about your process: How and why did you pick these pictures? Why did you arrange them the way you did?

Step 2Have students work in groups so they can share magazines and newspapers. Students can be asked to bring in old magazines from home. Give students twenty minutes to half an hour to create collages.

Step 3Break students into pairs or groups and have them explain their collages to each other.

Step 4Display the collages around the room.

Step 5Give students time to look at all the collages.

Step 6Ask students to write something about the collage they made or someone else’s collage. Ideas for writing can be:
Make up a story about the pictures in the collage
Explain how the pictures are related
Write about places or people in the pictures

Step 7Have students share, respond to, revise and edit their writing.

Activity Four: Diagrams

Step 1 Show the class one or two diagrams you have made.

Step 2Write Ideas for diagrams on the blackboard. These might include:

My life now
My family
My friends
A club or group I belong to
My life at some other point in time
An event such as a wedding or a party
A neighborhood (almost a map)
Our school or program
My job
My church or other place of worship

Explain the diagram to the class…” Here is my diagram of my life ten years ago. This is me in the middle. This is my family that I lived with over here. Here is the rest of my family. This is my job. This is the New York Mets over here because I was very into baseball ten years ago…”

Step 3Ask students to pick two of the ideas for diagrams that are on the blackboard. Ask them to break up into pairs and talk for a couple minutes each about why they chose those two ideas.

Step 4Ask students to pick the idea they are most interested in and make a diagram of it.

Step 5 Have students explain their diagrams to each other.

Step 6Ask students to write some more on their diagram after them have talked about it.

Step 7Write an essay or story about the diagram. The writing can be about part of the diagram, or the whole thing.

Step 8Have students read, respond to, revise, and edit their pieces of writing.

Activity Five: Culminating Activity

Revising, editing and publishing: Obviously, this moves you beyond “Getting Started,” but that’s the whole point of a beginning exercise. This can be simple or complicated. It’s up to you, your students, your resources, and the interest level generated by the writing you have done so far.

Step 1Students should have at least three pieces of writing started at this point. Make a cover sheet for the three pieces of writing. It can help to provide a starter or cue for students such as this:

“My Favorite Piece of Writing Is…”
“I Like This Piece Because…”

Step 2 Ask students to read their writing to each other in groups. Try to avoid students tearing each other’s writings to bits. A good way to avoid this is to put the writer in charge. Writers can read their pieces, talk about what they think of them, and ask the group questions.

Step 3You can display or publish the writing in many ways. You can put it up on the walls. You can photocopy the writing as is and bind it in a journal. Students can word process writing and you can make it a fancier journal. If your class, school, or program has a Web site you can post the writing on it. Here are a few examples of student writing on the Web.

These techniques can be used in just about any educational setting. Once students get a sense of the “getting started” techniques that work best for them, they can use them in any writing activity or for any writing assignment.