Freewriting for Fun and Fluency

Gretchen Jude, The Center for English Language Education, Asia University



  • Key Words: Writing
  • Learner English Level: High-beginner to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: Jr. High and older
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes or more
  • Activity Time: 15 minutes

I always think l am weak in writing. I didn't like writing very much. Because I knew I can't write composing paper. Maybe I was afraid of making mistake, and I had no courage.

Freewriting is often used as a way to introduce a new topic for writing or discussion. Students are asked to write on a specific topic and answer questions or raise issues that relate to the topic. The approach to freewriting presented here is different. This freewriting activity is designed not as a means of brainstorming ideas for more structured writing, but as a practice for decreasing students' inhibitions about writing. This practice can stimulate creative thinking, lower the affective filter and allow students to increase their written fluency, giving novice EFL writers a chance to learn to enjoy writing for its own sake.

Freewriting for fun and fluency requires only paper and pen or pencil, a topic to stimulate their senses or imaginations, and fifteen minutes. Students should be reassured continually that anything they write is "O.K.," as long as they "keep writing." Students should "write as much as possible." After one semester of practice, students write more easily and more enjoyably: If we make ourselves relax, our hearts move by themselves and we can write good freewriting.

The Reasons for Freewriting

Before I knew freewriting, when I wrote a essay, I wrote it looking up dictionaries and correcting my mistakes. After freewritings I wrote a essay witbout stopping...I came to be able to write essays faster than before because of freewriting.

Students want to know why they are doing this unfocused activity each week, since their freewriting is graded only on whether or not they do it. In the lecture introducing the activity, it is important to tell them that there are two reasons for open-ended freewriting. First, freewriting will help them increase their written fluency in English-especially if students can stop self-censoring as much as possible during freewriting time. Ask students to write as many words as possible, to imagine that each word they write is worth one hundred yen. Have them count their words and total up their earnings. Most students find that they can write more by the end of their ten weeks of freewriting.

The second goal of freewriting is to write many different ideas. In fact, students will often write the same old ideas over and over again, but the content of the freewriting doesn't really matter. More important than the product is the process. Writing without constraints or fear of evaluation, students begin to like what they are doing-writing in a foreign language.

The Rules of Freewriting

You said to us, "Not to use eraser." This statement set my mind at ease. I had no need to afraid of making mistake.

So-called "free" writing actually has two very important rules. The first is "Don't erase!" At first, this rule is difficult to enforce; the teacher may spend the first several weeks of freewriting confiscating erasers and kindly reminding students not to worry about their mistakes. Some students catch on more quickly and enjoy freewriting from the beginning; others long for their eraser, reaching for it again and again-even when it's not there.

The second rule is "Don't stop writing!" Certainly students can stop and think for a moment-but only a moment! Watch for students rewriting or editing what they've written, or daydreaming, or racking their brains for just the right word. Kindly tell them to keep writing.

Ten Provocative Topics

Each theme was a little odd and interesting. So I come to know the fun of writing.

Week #1: Fifteen minutes of music

Bring a cassette or CD with various kinds of music to class. After a brief introduction to freewriting, tell students, "Here is your first topic. Begin," and push play. Fifteen minutes later, the music stops, and the first freewriting activity is over.

Week #2: Half a picture, upside-down

Something big, strange and not easily recognizable is best. A colorful magazine ad or calendar illustration works well when cut in half and turned on its head.

Week #3: Something in a bag

This week, I pull out a small paper bag and tell students to put their hands in the bag without looking ("Don't worry, it won't hurt"). At the end of fifteen minutes, I take my blue fuzzy unicorn finger puppet out of the bag and show them what they touched.

Week #4: Something smelly

My choice for this week is hyacinth cologne on a small white silk handkerchief. Students pass my handkerchief around the room, touching, studying, and sniffing it-the smell lingers in the room well beyond our fifteen minutes.

Week #5: "udnsl" (a nonsense word)

Finally! A topic with letters! But what can it mean...?

Week #6: A postcard

From where, from whom, portraying what is all up to you, but let students quickly pass it around before freewriting begins.

Week #7: Salt or sugar?

I bring two film containers to class. One holds salt, the other, sugar. I walk around the room saying, "Pick a topic". Students hold out their hands for a little taste of some mysterious white powder. Everyone should taste their topic before beginning to write. Carry a cup around the room for students to dispose of unwanted granules.

Week #8: Mystery sound

Make or find a recording of a short, mysterious sound. Play it once for students at the beginning of freewriting this week.

Week #9: "Test" (a loaded word)

Any loaded word will work, but I've found that all my students have a strong reaction to this one.

Week #10: Music revisited

At the end of our final fifteen minutes, students can compare the writing from their first and final weeks of freewriting ("Is it longer? Is it more interesting?"). During our last class meeting, students have a chance to react to freewriting, and reflect on their own personal development as writers.

There are many mistakes in my writing, but I'm not afraid.

Thanks to my Tsuda College Junior English class (first semester, 1998) for their honest and artful feedback.