Freewriting: Building Fluency

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SWBAT build fluency through freewriting.

Big Idea

"The reason one writes isn't the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions.  The lesson below takes about 30 minutes to complete.  I use freewriting throughout the school year, but the first few times I implement it with students, I have them write in 15-20 minute sessions over multiple class periods so that they can build their writing stamina over time.  

I implement my own adaptation of Peter Elbow's freewriting in Writing Without Teachers (Oxford University Press, 1973).  Freewriting involves writers recording their thoughts without censorship and keeping their pens or pencils moving. In freewriting, writers do not concern themselves with organizing thoughts or going back to read over their writing while in the process of writing down their thoughts.  

I have been using freewriting (Assignment: Freewriting) with students throughout my career to improve their fluency and comfort with writing. 

I also allow students to engage in directed freewriting, writing what they know about a literary work or new subject, as a way to draw on background knowledge and review comprehension gaps prior to a lesson.  I tell students that they can use freewriting when reviewing content for any subject area, writing what they know.  This can help them to identify learning gaps and concepts they need to review or remediate.

Freewriting: Building Fluency

30 minutes

When students come into the classroom, I have the assignment (Assignment: Freewriting) displayed on the screen.  I ask students to complete freewriting in their journals, spiral or composition notebooks that they can keep in my classroom. 

I tell students that writing is about getting their thoughts down and that freewriting is a strategy that can improve their writing over time by helping them (1) get comfortable with writing down their thoughts and (2) become more efficient in organizing their thoughts in an on-demand writing task. I explain that when freewriting, you keep your pen or pencil moving simply writing down what comes to mind; I tell students that if they do not know what to write about, they can scribble or draw until they do. 

I explain that I also use freewriting as a problem-solving strategy when I have to make a major decision or if my mind is cluttered and I need to focus on an upcoming task. I discuss with students that they can also do directed freewriting on a particular topic, such as a college admissions essay topic, a literary work, or any challenge they are facing. 

I use my adaptation of freewriting two to three times each week to give students an opportunity to practice, practice, practice their writing skills; help them realize the value of writing to learn about themselves; and develop problem-solving skills.  Sometimes I write along with my students to model writing stamina; I usually share what I've written with them so that they can see how my thinking evolves as I freewrite.

Since I have some students who grew up speaking a language other than English, I allow them to write in their native language to build their literacy skills in their first language, which they can transfer to English as a second language.  I also have students who are artistically inclined; I allow them to draw if they get stuck while writing; but they must write about what they draw.  I tell students that if they can get comfortable with writing and improve their fluency, when they are presented with a writing on-demand task, such as an essay exam, writing sample exercise for college placement testing or an interview, they will be able to formulate their ideas faster, more coherently, and with more clarity.

 I circulate around the classroom while students freewrite, encouraging them to keep writing, or if they truly get stuck, to read over what they have already written as doing so may cause them to think of additional things to write about. 

Towards the end of my freewriting session, I ask students to finish up their last sentence or thought and read over what they have written, drawing arrows or brackets to make connections between ideas if possible.  Students record their freewriting (Student Work: Freewriting) in a journal they keep in my classroom. I tell them that while I check journals periodically, the journals are for them to record their thoughts and grow as writers (Video: Narration and Overview of Student Work).