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Focus on Freewriting

To become a better writer, volume and frequency matter. According to literacy experts, students are not getting enough of either.

The teachers we talk to agree. They want their students to write more, but they question the logistics. They wonder, “How can I carve out the time? How can I create motivation? What will I do about reluctant writers? What will I do about feedback? Do you really expect me to grade even more writing? Again, where is the time?”

These high-stakes concerns have a low-stakes solution: daily freewriting. No matter what subject you teach, having students freewrite in class for 10-15 minutes every day builds important writing skills, creates community, and deepens learning.

What is freewriting?

Freewriting means writing nonstop without judging. This multi-purpose practice works at any point in the writing or learning process, whether students need to generate new topics and ideas or reflect on existing ones.

What are the types freewriting?

Personal freewriting allows students complete freedom to write nonstop about anything that comes to mind. Focused freewriting invites students to respond to a specific prompt or question. Both types encourage students to write without a specific outcome in mind. Since the stakes are low, so too is the pressure to get things right.

Teaching Tip: When assigning freewriting, make sure to have a specific purpose in mind and share it with your students. As Elisabeth Ellington notes in a wonderful blog post, "Freewriting is most powerful when teachers use it for the same purposes as writers use it—as a space for practice, play, discovery, and exploration. When used for daily bell work, brain dumps, or rote practice of assigned writing tasks, freewriting loses its meaning and value and becomes something to resist."

How does freewriting work?

Whether your students are working on a personal or focused freewrite, you can teach them this process:

  1. Write nonstop about whatever comes into your mind. Follow your thoughts instead of trying to direct them.
  2. Write as much as you can for the allotted time (usually 10–15 minutes).
  3. Do not stop to judge, edit, or correct your writing; that will come later.
  4. Keep writing even when you think you have exhausted all of your ideas. If you get stuck, switch to a new topic or write what you are thinking, such as “What I’m really trying to say is . . .” or “I’m not sure what to write next, so I’ll just keep going until I think of something.” Open that spigot and let the words pour out.
  5. When the time is up, review your writing. Underline ideas or sentences that stand out. These ideas may serve as starting points for larger writing projects.

How does freewriting improve writing?

Regular freewriting builds confidence, fluency, and stamina for writers of all skill levels. The first few attempts may feel awkward or choppy. However, with practice students will increase the number of words and complexity of ideas they produce in one sitting. And the ideas students generate during freewriting can become the building blocks of formal writing projects. 

Teaching Tip: Have students count the words for each freewriting session and note the number at the bottom of the page. Near the end of a term or quarter, have students check to see how much their volume increased throughout the time period."

How can freewriting spark classroom discussion?

Invite your students to share "gem" sentences from their freewriting with the rest of the class. Try this process:

  1. Create an open-ended question or prompt related to a daily learning objective.
  2. Announce whether the freewrite will be private, semi-public, or public. (The public options work the best for generating discussion.)
    • Private means students will not share what they write.
    • Semi-public means students have the option to share.
    • Public means everyone will share.
  3. Write alongside students as they complete the freewrite. This practice builds community.
  4. Afterward, ask students to pick out one or more gem sentences—passages that stand out.
  5. Have students share their gems out loud. (Share yours, too. Resist the urge to self-correct. Students need to see that your freewriting is messy, too.)
  6. Use the gem sentences to spur further discussion. Invite students to share their reactions to their peers' sentences.

How do I grade freewriting?

You don’t! Well, not really. Freewriting should be low stakes, both for students and you, meaning you do not need to read or evaluate it. If you want to attach a grade to it, mark it as complete/incomplete.

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.