First introduced in Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers (Oxford University Press, 1975), freewriting simply means putting pen to paper and writing whatever comes into your head. It is a useful tool for generating ideas and discovering attitudes. The key here is to keep writing, even when you are having difficulty thinking of something to say. Some texts even instruct that the pen is not to leave the paper. Teachers might devote as few as five minutes of class time to freewriting, though ten to fifteen minutes are the most often used times allotted for this activity. Out-of-class freewriting, especially for students attempting to generate ideas for papers, can, of course, be much longer.

Elbow suggests that at the conclusion of a freewriting session the writer should compose a single sentence that summarizes the main point--"the center of gravity," he calls it. This sentence can then be a springboard for further exploration of ideas the next writing session.

Using freewriting at the beginning of a class has the advantage of immediately engaging students in the class. Students must, by necessity, close out some of the non-course related concerns that they bring into the classroom.

While some writing texts do not discern between freewriting and focused freewriting, the distinction is worth noting: Focused freewriting is writing about a particular subject or question which has been posed. Professors worried that freewriting is too unstructured will find comfort in the ways that focused freewriting can generate discussion about the day’s topic(s). The nice thing about this activity is that all students have written something and one does not have to rely upon the handful of students who always volunteer their thoughts.

Sample questions:

1. What did you understand least about today’s reading assignment?

2. What points in the article you read for today are the most (or least) convincing?

3. Of what value is this knowledge? How does what you are studying apply to the world around you?

4. Had you been a peasant during the French Revolution, what do you feel your greatest fear would have been?

5. What assumptions do you make about the author of the piece you have just read?

Continue to other writing-to-learn activities:
Main WTL Page
Freewriting & Focused Freewriting
Entry Slips/Exit Slips

Reader-Response Writing
The Sentence/Passage Springboard
Writing Definitions to Empower the Student
Student-Formulated Questions
The Short Summary
Group Writing Activities
Dialectical/Double Entry Notebooks
Answer the Question!
Clarification/Review Letters