Encouraging Risk-Taking and Spontaneity through "Quick Write"

Bill Perry, Miyazaki International College; David Rehorick, University of New Brunswick


  • Key Words: Writing
  • Learner English Level: Low intermediate through advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: High school through adult
  • Preparation Time: Varies
  • Activity Time: One to two hours

The importance of risk-taking in successful language learning has been well-documented (Ellis, 1986, p. 122), but too often learners are reluctant to take risks and experiment with ideas, especially in writing. Quick Write is our version of freewriting, a means of stimulating fresh ideas and of developing fluency in writing, also known variously as "rapidwrite," "ink shedding," "freewriting," "loopwriting," and "flashwriting" (see Jacobs, 1986, p. 282). Quick Write activities give students an opportunity to form opinions quickly and record their ideas immediately in writing without concerns about accuracy. From our experience, we have found that this technique increases the amount of student writing and encourages students to take more risks in the writing process.

Here, we explain the Quick Write technique that we developed in a college-level, team-taught sociology class for intermediate-level students of English. Since one of the course themes was cross-cultural comparisons, we selected an article from The Daily Yomiuri (Karoji, 1997) about the advantages and disadvantages of sleeping on beds and futons. The article, which served as the stimulus for thinking about the cultural issue, was reduced in length and adapted somewhat for the proficiency level of our students (see Appendix). The entire Quick Write activity was completed in a single class period (approximately two hours).

Following the seven steps outlined below, this Quick Write technique can easily be adapted to a wide range of teaching situations.

1) Connecting to personal experience

First, we asked the students to clear everything from their desks except for a pen and paper--no pencils, no erasers, and no dictionaries. Once the desks were clear, each student was asked to write a personal response to two questions: (a) At home, do you sleep on a bed or futon? and (b) Which do you prefer, and why? After five minutes of writing, the students set the individual written responses aside and did not return to them until the final step in the process. The opening activity encouraged each student to reflect on and record something of personal relevance. This beginning activity provided a basis for students to assess changes in their own thinking at the end of the process.

2) Introducing the content

To stimulate the students' interest in the topic, the adapted article was read in a dramatic fashion to the entire class by one of the instructors. The students were asked to discuss the main ideas of the story in small groups. After five minutes, students from each group shared their understanding of the reading with the class.

Since students did not have access to the written text of the reading at this stage, introducing the content through a whole-class listening exercise prompted group members to talk about what they thought that they had heard and to negotiate for meaning. This procedure also reduced the pressure and anxiety that some students may experience when they have not had an opportunity to clarify their understanding before trying to share ideas with the rest of the class.

3) Expanding comprehension and encouraging spontaneous contributions

The adapted reading was read a second time. Students were asked to add new information to what they had understood after the first reading. To stimulate spontaneous contributions, the instructors encouraged students to guess at what they thought they might have heard. Students then received a written copy of the adapted text and had approximately 15 minutes for individual reading and further group discussion on the meaning of the article.

4) Quick Write (Part 1)--Reacting to someone else's thoughts

Having established a shared context in class, the next sequence of activities helped to promote thoughtful commentaries on the content. The central goal was to encourage spontaneity and fluency in writing rather than contemplation and preoccupation with correctness of expression.

The task for each student within the groups was to react quickly in writing to another student's statement. The result was a sequence of four statements within each four-person group. We asked that the students write in pen only (no pencils and no erasers). All responses were recorded on a single worksheet that identified the group members, contained the initial prompt and had space for the group writing activities.

The prompt was "What is your reaction to the story about why it is better to sleep on a futon than on a bed?" The first student responded to the question briefly, and the other three students responded to each other in order. The result was a composite group worksheet with separate, yet thematically-related responses. Most students generated a single sentence; some wrote two or three sentences.

5) Quick Write (Part 2)--Processing reactions in a group

Each worksheet was passed to another group with the instructions: (a) one member of your group should read all the statements aloud; (b) talk about what you've heard, and then generate one collective response to the ideas; and (c) write the response on the worksheet. This feature of Quick Write promoted within-group negotiations for the meaning of what others had said as well as the need to negotiate a common response.

6) Quick Write (Part 3)--Reflecting on another group's comments

The responses were returned to the original groups for them to read and discuss. Groups were encouraged to request clarification and explication of what the others had written.

7) Re-Connecting to personal experience

Students retrieved their personal responses to whether they sleep on a bed or futon, which they prefer, and why. In this final step, they reflected on their original statements in light of the ideas generated during the activity. It also served as a comprehension check since the students indicated their current thinking in relation to the new ideas that had emerged. Using the same sheet of paper on which they had recorded their original statements, students wrote their personal reactions to what they now thought about sleeping on futons versus beds. Many students made significant changes to their original statements based on their experiences during the Quick Write activity. In all cases, the actual volume of writing had increased.

Our version of Quick Write, described in seven steps, encourages all students to think and write in English. Students began by writing about something grounded in their own personal experience. Next, they were exposed to new ideas through a text that was presented orally and discussed prior to individual reading. In steps 4 through 6 above, by interacting with each other in writing, the students gained more confidence in their ideas and in their ability to express them in writing. By the final step, the students became comfortable with the content and, at the same time, became more willing to take risks in their writing.


Ellis, R. (1986). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jacobs, G. (1986). Quickwriting: A technique for invention in writing. ELT Journal, 40(4), 282-290.

Karoji, S. (1997, June 25). Tatami mats vs. beds. The Daily Yomiuri, p.11.


Futons vs. Beds

Adapted from an article written by Sumie Karoji

Source: The Daily Yomiuri, June 25, 1997

I just recently moved into a new apartment from a traditional Japanese-style house. I thought that I would take advantage of the change to try out a new way of sleeping on a North American-made bed. At first I found the bed very comfortable. I liked the flexibility of the mattress, and I didn't have to put it away every morning.

However, this feeling of comfort and satisfaction didn't last very long. Within a few months, I noticed that my shoulders were getting sore and stiff. I had trouble with my stomach and toothaches became more common. Eventually I went to a doctor because I had so many problems. They did many tests, but couldn't find anything wrong with me.

I was happy to hear that nothing was wrong, but my condition did not improve. When I got up each morning, my back ached and I felt exhausted. My legs began to feel numb in the morning. I decided to get regular massages and physical therapy to help the problem. I also started thinking about what the possible causes could be. I began to wonder if the problem was caused by my new bed.

I thought that the softness of the mattress might be the cause of the backaches. I decided to put a wooden board under the mattress and a shikibuton and a kakebuton on top. These changes in the bed seemed to help all of my problems. The pain in my back and the stiffness in my shoulders quickly disappeared. I was surprised that such small changes could make such a big difference.

Now what I sleep on is a combination of a Japanese futon and a North American style bed. This is much more comfortable, and my health problems have ended. I have heard that many European and North American people are trying this new combination.