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Finding a topic or beginning 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 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 the pre-writing activities help students overcome the difficulties they encounter when they begin to write. Three valuable pre-writing activities are free writing, the bubble outline, and word game.


  1. Freewriting, non-stop stream of consciousness writing, is designed to help students develop fluency in writing and select topic for future writing.

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

  1. Discuss with participants their reactions to freewriting. The following questions may be useful in conducting this discussion.

  1. What were your general reactions to doing freewriting? How many had the urge to look back? How many were concerned about spelling, grammar and/or paragraphing? How many found that your hands began to hurt?
  2. Did you stick to one topic or jump around?
  3. How many of you were surprised at something you wrote? Why?
  4. Reread what you wrote and label the memories, fantasies, and/or immediate sensory impressions in your writing.

- Will someone share a memory?

- Will someone share a fantasy?

- Will someone share a sensory impression?

  1. Go over your writing, and underline one idea you would write about further if you wanted to develop a piece.
  2. Would anyone like to share the entire piece of writing?
  3. Ask yourself, “What would I have to do to make this interesting or comprehensible to someone else?”
  1. Guided freewriting is freewriting on a single topic.

  1. Ask participants to name the topic of a lesson they taught that week (e.g., fractions, lipids, imperialism, etc.) . List several of these on the board.

  1. Invite participants to choose a topic from the board and write it down.

  1. Instruct participants to freewrite on their topics for five minutes.

  1. Discuss with participants their reactions to guided freewriting. The following questions may be useful in conducting this discussion:

  1. Did you find that you expressed opinions about your topic? Examples?
  2. Did you write any questions about the topic? Examples?
  3. Were you surprised about anything you wrote? Explain. Examples?

  1. Summarize for participants the value of guided freewriting:

  1. Used as a motivation, guided freewriting.

  1. Crystallize for students what they already know about a topic.
  2. Helps students identify what they want to know about a topic.
  3. Makes teachers aware of students’ attitudes toward a topic.

  1. Used as a review, guided freewriting

  1. Reinforces what students have learned about a topic.
  2. Helps students discover what is still unclear to them about a topic.

  1. The bubble outline is a pre-writing activity which generates material for writing and organizes it.

  1. Write a topic in the center of the board. (This topic could concern current events, health, or anything else of general interest.)

  1. Elicit words and phrases that participants associate with the topic. Ask participants where on the board they wish you to place their ideas.

  1. After many ideas have been generated, ask participants to identify related ideas. Connect these related ideas by circling them (the bubbles). Colored chalk is useful here to visually distinguish categories.

  1. Describe to participants some uses of the bubble outline.

  1. Students can learn to do their bubble outlines to brainstorm and organize ideas before writing on a topic.
  2. Students can use ideas from the bubble outline in different forms of writing (dialogues, monologues, poems, etc.)
  3. The organizational skills taught in the bubble outline are useful in preparing for the RCT in Writing.
  4. The bubble outline is also useful in subject classes to motivate or review a unit and to help students remember information necessary for an essay test.

  1. Word games can serve as ice breakers that stimulate both writing and interaction among students.

  1. In the acrostic name game, students print their names vertically on the left side of the page, on letter per line. Then, using each letter to being a word, they write words that describe them. Students may volunteer to write their acrostics on the board and explain to the class how these words describe them. Students may also choose one word they’ve used to describe themselves and write about this character trait. A further use of the acrostic name game would be as a way for students to begin journals.

  1. In simile and metaphor completions, students compare themselves to animals, insects, plants, flowers, foods, beverages, articles of clothing, furniture, appliances or gadgets.

I am like a _____________because_____________________________.

If I were a _____________, I would be a ____________because__________.

I am a ___________________. I _____________________________.

  1. Students can discuss “answerless questions” in groups or pairs, developing answers and supporting reasons together. After some practice, students can write their own “answerless questions” to be exchanged with classmates. Some examples of “answerless questions” are:

Which is smarter, a nail or a screw?

Which is happier, a bus or a truck?

Which is softer, cotton or a kiss?


Dodd, Ann Wescott, Write Now! New York: Globe Book Company, Inc., 1973.

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

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

Acknowledgements: An earlier version of this presentation was prepared by Johanna Mosca.

© 1982 by The New York City Writing Project

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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