Teaching Children to Write by Free Writing

When it comes to writing, starting is the hardest part, but free writing makes it so much easier! Even with a chosen topic, a blank page or computer screen can be discouraging. Free writing will get kids past the blank page.

I make myself and my students free write because it is the easiest and best creative writing idea out there. Many professionals prefer to jump start their imaginations this way. It is also called quick, madman or practice writing.

The first time you ask children to do this, they will stare incredulously and grumble. They will be hard pressed to meet the time requirement of three minutes. However, after a regular discipline of free writing, they will begin to enjoy this time and it is amazing what they can produce. I often have to force them to stop at the end of ten minutes.

The rules for free writing:

  1. Write quickly and uncritically. Aim for quantity, not quality.
  2. You must write for the mandatory time period (begin with 3 minutes and work up to 10). There is no need for a topic. Begin writing. Do not think of what to write. It doesn’t matter. It’s the process, not the product that is important.
  3. Your hand must be moving the entire time and you are not allowed to talk. Not even a peep.
  4. If you can’t think of anything, then write, “I don’t know what to write,” or repeat the last word or letter over and over so that writing continues no matter what. If students consistently cop out in this manner ignore it. In time, they will come around. It’s way more boring to do this than it is to write.
  5. Use a non-ticking timer. I don’t know why that provides incentive, but it does.
  6. Use a scribbler. Write the date on the top right-hand corner. Continue just below this entry the next time. These writing samples are often used for future stories.
  7. When the timer goes off, read what you have written and give it a title. Write your title on the top left-hand corner.
  8. For best results, the parent should free write in his or her scribbler each time the child writes.
  9. Spelling, neatness, grammar, spacing, etc. do not count (I can’t stress this enough).
  10. What you write is private. You may share with the others by reading aloud when you are done, but that is entirely voluntary. The parent should honor children’s privacy. Only when we feel safe to write our true feelings will our creativity be released.
  11. Be faithful with this activity. Start every day with it and stick to it like brushing your teeth. In a very short time, it will produce fruit. I used this technique with a junior high creative writing course. We started each class by free writing for ten minutes. I assigned a certain number of free writing sessions for increasing lengths of time each week. Sometimes I made them write in unusual locations. The results were phenomenal. Their writing took off, and I attribute it directly to the free writing exercises. I have heard similar success stories from many parents.

When I began free writing each morning, I noticed two things happened almost immediately. One was that I began to look forward to that time. It became therapeutic. I never knew what would flow out of my pen and I discovered many things about myself. The second was that writing became much easier. When I say writing, I mean the writing that I did apart from free writing. What I free wrote was immaterial. Most of it I never looked at again. The real pay off came when I had to write an article with a deadline. I would sit at my computer and dive in, head first. No longer did I stare at a blank screen. Like a long distance runner, I was instantly in stride and I took off.

If you will trust me and try this consistently for a healthy period of time (months), you will notice a difference in your children’s writing. I would love it if you would write a comment about it on this site and share with others that it really does work!

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