Timed Free Writes and Relaxed Writes

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



19 thoughts on “Timed Free Writes and Relaxed Writes”

  1. Instead of having them turn them in to me every week or two I had a blank journal printed out for each student that has plenty of room for free writes each week. I am planning on collecting them every 1-2 months to see how they’re doing, and to give them some credit for their work. I think their progress will be quite clear for them visually without having to go through and count every word, but to each their own…
    I love the idea of having them reflect upon their work at the end of the year. I just find that by giving them a journal it’s more likely that all of their free writes will actually stay together, and it’s something that they are more likely to actually hold onto as a memento/souvenir. It’s exciting to see how much they’re growing already, and I think it will be quite evident to them at the end of the year as well!
    Here’s a link to the journal I put together:

  2. Purposes of writing? We could probably cut and paste the same list from the purpose of the quick quizzes, except the idea of reps (there is no input, unless they read what they wrote).
    If you have student buy-in + parent & admin support (or apathy), then you can probably abandon all writing. Even when I only had kids do a handful of speed writes last year it was the most disliked thing amongst the students (per their groans and their feedback on course evaluation). And all my students had a notebook they kept in class. You lose more time for everyone to find and put back notebooks.
    There are diminishing improvements, such that many kids over 80+ words were just trying to maintain the same number of words, which varied depending on the story they had to rewrite. As Blaine suggests in LICT, once they can rewrite stories, you give them “prompts” (e.g. tell me about your . . .). I’ve never tried this. Writing on an unrehearsed topic would certainly reveal vocabulary gaps to the students, which could hurt confidence.
    I don’t like the idea of any pure output activity taking more than 5 minutes. You give them more time and expect similar word counts, then those are not “fluency-testing” conditions, i.e. encourages monitor use. It’s more time away from language acquisition.

    1. I guess it is some time away from input, Eric, but I think there are some huge benefits for almost all students nonetheless. They realize their progress (and therefore buy in to future classes more) and for superstar students, it’s an opportunity to show me what they can do. I can only think of a few cases where it frustrated students: I asked too early for writing (so there wasn’t enough language in their heads), or too often (so it felt like a chore). Fluency writing to me means no assigned topic, but I’ll suggest “write about something we discussed in class recently” if they get stuck. And “add another character” if they get stuck again.
      So far this year, I’m only doing fluency writing about once a month. I want them to type, not hand-write, as it makes such a huge difference in Chinese. Plus, I want them to be able to type Chinese. I’m still working on how to gather and keep that writing — a goal for this semester as it didn’t come to pass last semester.
      I also regularly use that student writing (after a little editing) as something to read in class. Then we have a new level of compelling reading: so far all my students have been a visible step more interested in what a classmate wrote than most of what I write. I can also take their writing and fold in a few vocab or structural items I want them to see again… in my experience they still think of it as “their” writing. I have had kids actually cheer and smile big if their writing was featured that way.

  3. I use fluency writes every two to three weeks. I wondered how often others use them. I think that I am going to do them every week in one hour and every other week with another in order to compare the gains. Also how often do people do dictation? We write very little in my classes and I may need to think these kinds of activities through again?

    1. I used Free Writes every Friday and we do Dictados or Pictados every Monday and sometimes on Thursday. With Spanish 4 we do much longer sentences/paragraphs than the lower levels. I highly recommend doing it as it gets the students engaged whether or not the brain breaks were enough in class and it breaks up the story every once in a while when their teenage need for change kicks in.

  4. 10 min. max on dictee. That is from the top – Suzie. When I first introduced it over ten years ago Susie didn’t really like it much. She correctly saw it as inferior to free writes. But it takes up time, if you need the kind of switch Amber describes above. If you must choose, always go with the free writes. That’s where the real gains are.

  5. The other awesome thing about collecting 5 mi timed writes and 35 minrelaxed writes is you can show them to parents and other teachers. My BEGINNERS can outwrite the French 12 kids who have had five YEARS of French (plus a bit from gr 4-8).
    I do speedwrites and 35-min relaxed writes after every story. The kids like it because they get tired of hearing Señor Stolz. *I* get tired of Señor Stolz too.
    I rcently started recycling student relaxd writes. I’ll read ones aloud– correcting all the fuckups– and the awesome thing here is, I can stop, circle, bla bla bla….BUT…I can read the *lowest-performing kid’s story* and it makes them feel like a million dollars (the kids ALWAYS ask “whose story was that?”). A lot of the kids who “aren’t good at languages” also “aren’t good at” other subjects, so what a kick to hear your story being read aloud.

  6. I am fairly infrequent with my quick writes and I am debating whether increasing their frequency. I think the main reason is that I would usually prefer to have them reading than writing, but I fully admit it let’s me see which mistakes their making. As it is more flexible than the quick quizzes, it gives me a better idea of which errors they are making. I do want to know how many of you do them linked to a story primarily and how many of you let them write freely about whatever comes to them.

  7. In my semester block classes, I do no more than 5. So that is like doing 5 in a full year class. Perhaps I should do more. But I almost always pick input or oral output over writing. I keep these in folders for each graduating class, and then when the kids graduate, I give them their timed writes from the years they took Spanish (1 -3 years). I just photocopy them and staple them together. This is doable for me since graduating classes are usually under 30. They appreciate having this artifact and being able to see their improvement. Plus, this is exactly what they need to read if they’re going to “study” for a placement exam or something… the stuff that they themselves wrote, given that that’s what they themselves acquired.
    This year in Spanish 2 I did Bob Patrick’s Time Write Self-Eval. This was a nice addition.

    1. I realize that I posted my comment without having read this post… I thought it was a post from months ago that got brought back up… sorry for the redundancy of my comments!
      Relaxed writes… slow and contemplative… hmmm, I’ll stay tuned.
      I do agree that the time writes do some serious PR work for our classes.

  8. I really love the idea of relaxed writes. One thing that I do is play with the time of Timed writings. If the formula is 5 minutes for 100 words…I sometimes will do a 2:30=50 words speed write, 7:30=150 words speed write, and of course a 10:00=200 free write.
    I do this to allow students to express the stories we do more fully. A 5 minute free write for my students is often just the beginning of stories and some don’t ge to the middle or end of a story. When they are allowed more time they have to continue to “play” the word count game and communicate.
    Does anyone play with the time and notice a difference?
    We all seem to be like-minded about delaying output while maintaining a “rich diet” of CI for our students. That being said, I can’t help but notice that my students get better at writing when they write. Some school years I have waited a long time for writing output and other years I ask for writing eary on. Early on writing seems to reflect better results in my classes.
    There is no doubt about the fact that input is its cause but I think there is a bit of metacognition for the students when they can see their results on paper. They grow from this and I think get better at language.
    I think this goes back to something Ben said about being on the Krashen and Blaine scale.
    For some personalities or audiences it might be appropriate to be more or less of the other…if that makes any sense.

    1. Adriana Leanda and I all noticed the same thing (and there is research supporting it): once kids have a solid foundation, there are improvements to be made with writing that do not come from c.i. The New Brunswick ESL study (despite some methodological issues) makes this clear.
      I also teach senior English and, yup, you HAVE to do some editing work to improve kids’ writing.
      Leanda, Adriana and I all noticed the same thing: grammar feedback is useless. What *does* work is asking “content” questions e.g. “describe the boy” and “where did he go?”
      I’m seeing Adriana Thurs and I’ll ask her about her writing strategies.

    2. VanPatten talks about implicit mental representation (acquisition) and skill (speed & accuracy) as 2 different things. If you have skill you must have mental representation, but you can have mental representation and not skill (or so theorizes VP). If we accept that, then fluency activities (fluency requires time pressure) can work speed of output, even possibly accuracy, but are not leading to any more acquisition.

  9. I am just starting to use CI and TPRS more and more in my classroom and find the forum very useful. Thanks everyone. I want to try free writing with my Sp. 2. This might be a silly question but when doing Free writing, do I make the structures learned available to them? do I put an image or drawing to “inspire” their writing?

    1. Hi Tati, I would guess that there is a variety of answers to your questions. I have words on posters in my classroom so they could see those: question words, connector words, some verbs and rejoinders. On their exams, they weren’t in our classroom, and I listed a variety of useful words we’d worked with recently on the exam itself. I usually don’t ask for any particular topic. If you wanted to see if they’d use particular structures, your idea of showing a picture seems to make that more likely.
      One thing with fluency writing that I’ve found: some students need to be told clearly not to sit and think too long about it, or to stop before time is up. I had a student tell me he was “done” after about 4 minutes and I had to explain the procedure again to him. If they get stuck, adding a new character to their writing helps them keep going.

  10. And Tati if you haven’t seen it already, many of us have this poster up to help move things along.
    Free Write Rules
    Write without stopping for 10 minutes.
    No English words in the story except for names.
    Keep the sentences and story line simple.
    Get your story idea ahead of time.
    Use lists if you have them.
    Use words that you already know.
    If you don’t know a word, don’t use it.
    Use as many adjectives as possible.
    Spell as accurately as you can and then move on.
    Add another character when you get stuck.
    Use posters from the room as help.
    Illogical stories are o.k.
    And in Denver Public Schools a lot of us have gotten to putting lists of connecting words up on the wall and really stressing their use for quality writing.
    It’s best to do free writes after a story because the Din of words that they have banging round inside their heads will surface first.
    I like to put their writing up on the doc camera and brag on them. Of course, error correction then is useless. Praise, though, that they could communicate an idea in another language, now that’s something they don’t hear enough of.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben