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Free Writing

Author: NYCWP



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Free Writing


Finding a topic or beginning of a piece of writing can be a difficult task. When students face a blank piece of paper and freeze, it may be for a variety of reasons. They may believe that they should know everything they want to say before beginning to write, or they may think that they have nothing to say. Others may lack confidence in their own language, editing even before words form on their papers. Many teachers have found that free writing can help students overcome the difficulties they encounter when they begin to write.


Free writing, non-stop stream-of-consciousness writing, is designed to help students develop fluency in writing and select topics for writing.

Inform students that they will be writing non-stop for five minutes. They should be told when to begin and when to stop. Students should write whatever comes into their minds without worrying about spelling, punctuation or grammar, without stopping to think or reread. If they are at a loss for words, they should not stop, but repeat the previous statements or complain in writing about being stuck until they think of something else to write. Students should be told that their free writing will be private unless they volunteer to share it.

You may want to use the following directions with students:

We are going to write for five minutes

I am not going to collect or mark these papers

You will not have to share your writing unless you wish to

Do not worry about errors of any kind

Keep your pen moving across the paper for the full five minutes

Don’t worry about the appearance of your writing

Don’t erase or use white out

Don’t look back, even though you may want to

If you get stuck for a moment, relax and repeat your last work, or write, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck, I’m stuck” until you get unstuck

I will tell you when to start and when to stop writing

Write with the students.

Processing Free Writing:

Discuss with the students their reactions to free writing. The following questions may be useful in conducting this discussion:

What were your general reactions to doing free writing?

How many of you were worried about spelling, grammar, paragraphing and errors?

How many found that your hands began to hurt?

Did you stick to one topic or jump around?

How many were surprises at something that you wrote?

What is one idea that you touched on that you could write more about?

Would anyone like to share what he/she wrote?

What would you have to do to make this comprehensible or interesting to someone else?

Students may want to develop some of the ideas and images in the free writing and use them as the basis for an essay, a poem or a story.

NOTE: Guided free writing is free writing on a specific topic. It is often used as motivation for the study of a new topic (to find out what students already know or believe) or can be used as a form or review. Though students write non-stop for a given period of time, its purposes are different.


Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Elbow, Peter. Writing Without Teachers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973, 1998.

Moffett, James and Betty Jane Wagner. Student Centered Arts, K-13. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

© 1982 The New York City Writing Project. Revised 2003.

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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