Free Write Question

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16 thoughts on “Free Write Question”

  1. The student who is blocked and can’t get anything down on paper is worried about making mistakes. It’s important to insist that these are FREE writes, that there is no penalty for making mistakes. And I never gave the students a subject that they had to write about. I said it could be anything. It could be a story we had done in class, or a dream they’d had, or what they did over the weekend, a game they had watched, anything. If some moaned and groaned that they couldn’t think of anything, I made a few suggestions to get them started. If you do this regularly you will be amazed at how much their writing improves. And you’ll learn all kinds of things about your students.
    As for writing up the class story, I like to do this with all the class. They retell the story and I type it on the computer so the text is projected on the board and they can see it. I automatically edit out minor errors and help when they’re stuck, so it’s a group effort and a great opportunity for pop-ups.

  2. I agree with Judy. Providing a beginning is an enormous help. We have had great success in our program during free writes by doing any/all of the following:
    Providing a word, phrase or sentence(s) that students can use to begin writing. Not knowing, or being able to decide, how to start blocks many, many students.
    Providing an ending sentence, or a beginning and ending sentence has also been a great help.
    Some students respond well if we look over their writing and ask a question about it.
    We allow students to ask for direction, not vocabulary. If a student needs direction, I will give two choices (ie the parent could give him the money or tell him to get a job) in as few words as possible I do this in the TL.
    We put the phrases Think, Feel, Say and Do on the wall so that students can use all of those modalities.
    We do not grade free writes. We use them to see where students are and to adjust lesson planning. Grading them for word count and/or quality was a stressor for many.
    And finally, I try to take three or four kids each time and just chat with them about their free writes afterwards. It helps me to know why they wrote the way that they wrote.
    love you Ang!

    1. Laurie has some really good suggestions.
      Last year during an advanced ESL class, I ran into some similar issues. I wanted students to write on a topic of their choosing so that I could help them with usage and wording, but the concept of a free writing was totally alien to my students. They were all from East Asia, so their learning experience was mostly rote or at least highly scripted. Because of this, it was really hard to even get the activity started.
      To solve this, I thought about my students’ interests and made some index cards with prompt questions on them. Light hearted questions like, “If you could fly, where would you go?” or, “What is your favorite food at the cafeteria? Why do you like it?” were pretty popular. Having a card like this to start with was really helpful for a lot of my more closed students. It made them feel like they had a defined task, rather than this big, empty, confusing task.
      I also had folks who could write, and write, and edit, and rewrite, and add a twist ending, then edit, then …. While their hearts were definitely there, they weren’t acquiring the language as fast as the folks who could write a paragraph, receive feedback, edit, then move on to another. To solve this, I made a length limit. They could only write 3-6 sentences, then we’d conference, then they’d rewrite, and after that they got to do some free reading (in the target language) for the rest of the period. While the thought of word limits makes a lot of folks cringe, it helped a lot with my guys who could write to no end. Again, these were guys (High School students) who desperately needed some help with grammar and usage, so they needed to produce a lot of little things, receive feedback, rewrite, and repeat on a regular basis.
      After doing this for a few weeks, all of my students were prompted to write three writing prompts. After I helped them with grammar and wording, they wrote their prompts on index cards to share with the class. Ultimately, these ended up being the most popular writing prompts we had, and they were fairly level appropriate considering they were made by peers.
      While we never fully achieve “free writing” in the English/Language Arts sense of the word, taking baby steps toward this goal was really helpful for everyone.
      Setting aside few periods a week as free reading/writing periods was also helpful; It gave me time to conference with each student individually about their writing while others had engaging things to do while they waited or after they had finished. This also made it so that I didn’t need to take a giant stack of papers home everyday, mark them up, hand them back, and then feel like nothing I wrote was sinking in.
      The writing activity described above was loosely based on the Focused Rewrite technique, promoted by Ashley Hastings and Brenda Murphy (link: ). I had to make some changes due to my students’ cultural expectations, but adding in some self-selected prompts for guidance made the activity a big success..

  3. I can’t imagine giving my students an open-ended free write that was not based on a story we had rehashed. I just don’t think they have enough language to do it. Are you guys talking about upper-level students when you talk about just giving them an opening line and then letting them write? I’m going to keep experimenting because one of the coolest things is to see students writing furiously in Spanish during the free writes.

    1. Angie, I agree with you: “…one of the coolest things is to see students writing furiously in Spanish during the free writes.”
      One thing I do is suggest retelling but with different characters, and/or different places, or change the ending, or “start the sequel “(what happens after the ending)…etc. This gets them writing what they know how to write, which gets them into a flow, and then the shifting characters, endings etc. seems to grow organically from this flow.

    2. Yes Angie…..I do mean the more advanced students…sorry about that. It may be that some of those students are right where they are supposed to be…that they will process faster and write more as they move along in the program.
      One thing we haven’t yet suggested, but which works wonderfully is the story board!!
      If you provide them with the visual, they may find it much easier to “unlock” the language that they need!!
      with love,

  4. It is a good idea to see each other free writes. I have been saving free writes samples since I first started assigning them. They ultimately are the evidence of our students developing proficiency.
    On this blog article are some samples…click on the PDFs. These examples are samples of what I consider the average student. Displaying students that have heritage or previous language learning experiences might not be an accurate reflection of the learning.

      1. Melissa,
        I have always noticed that level 2 students write more accurately and often longer. I think the only slumps that happen are the ones that happen throughout a general school year. For example, spring time when students are overexcited or stressful times at the end of semesters or quarters.
        Another thought is that…I see better writing when the students are more interested in what they read to go along with this strategy.
        Maybe there is an “outlier” to these slumps?

        1. I find it has happened in January or February which is a slump time of year but some of the grammatical issues slip but seem to come back up correct again. When I see this I try to use those structures again as often as possible. I may have thought that they were acquired deep and really were not. How often do you do free writes?

      2. Those are very similar to what we see in DPS. I just don’t have any samples to post here and thanks Arizona Mike. Melissa yes on the 2nd year kids. Especially if you are talking about sophomores. That’s a gnarly year, for sure. Hey, I just made a connection – maybe that’s why they call it the Sophomore Slump!

  5. Angie,
    After reading your original message it got me thinking about free writes that I have done in the past. I was getting tired of seeing the same type of retell. It is not that starting with “hay un chico or hay una chica” or whatever is bad but with level 2 students I wanted to see an evolution of writing.
    What I started to do was start the timed writing assignment from specific points of a story or from a different character pint of views.
    In Nuevo Houdini (the main character is Brandon Brown) for example, I might prompt students retell the story from the perspective of Brandon’s grandma or Jake his best friend. These are side characters that might hold opinions or views about the story that are unique.
    I also do this with the MovieTalks animations that I use. Sometimes it is fun to think about and express the opinions of side characters or the bad guys. This puts students in a unique position to be a little more creative with applying the TL.
    This also can be another way to apply what Blaine is going for when he assigns TOPIC writing to students for free writes. If anyone tries “point of view prompt” free writes this year, I would love to hear how it goes….

      1. Another great idea! Thanks, Mike!
        I just caution people when trying this. The purpose of a “fluency write” is the speed of writing. That is why it is okay to write something familiar. I don’t want them thinking about what to write. I want them writing!

  6. Eric,
    I think the topic, content, and language for doing point of view prompts is still familiar to students. Students will only use the language they have been exposed to. Maybe “curving” the time an extra 30 seconds or doing this as a Relaxed writing activity could be that cautionary spin used.
    When my students speed write on a Topic the word count and complexity of sentences seems to be at a different level than practiced narrated retells. To me this +1 that I want to invite for students to do with their language usage. It is closer to ideas they are familiar with than perhaps topics.
    All that being said… you are right…it is a risk that should be implemented thoughtfully.

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