Difference Between Free Writing & Writing Prompts for HomeschoolersPosted In Writing | Posted By Kristy Robins
When learning how to write, homeschoolers need a variety of activities to strengthen their skills. Students benefit from writing activities that stimulate their thinking as well as reinforce their understanding of format and mechanics. Writing involves many moving parts, and inexperienced writers may struggle when they try to put it all together at the same time. By including time for both free writing activities and focused responses to writing prompts, homeschool teachers can ensure that their students will be well-rounded writers and thinkers.
What is Free Writing?
Free writing involves writing down ideas as they occur in the brain. The focus of this type of writing is simply to get the writer’s thinking on paper, not the format or mechanics of the writing itself. There are no rules regarding the output except that the student must keep his or her pencil moving for a certain length of time, which varies by age. Elementary students might be expected to free write for 2-3 minutes at a time, while secondary students might free write for a longer duration, usually between 5 and 15 minutes. Free writing is a tool to uncover ideas or to solidify the writer’s thinking, and it isn’t appropriate to grade or evaluate the writing itself. The main point is to help the writer capture ideas.
Even though it is called “free writing,” teachers need to give the students some kind of directive or question. The students then have the freedom to respond in whatever way they see fit. When free writing, students may respond in lists or phrases rather than in full sentences. Some students go the opposite direction and may produce long run-on sentences as they free write. Artistic or highly visual students may even throw in a drawing or doodle when free writing. By posing a question, the teacher can give students enough direction to help them get started, but by allowing a variety of forms in the output, the teacher encourages the students to engage deeply with their thoughts and feelings.
How Free Writing Helps Students Spark Ideas
Free writing allows writers to put aside any concerns about format and mechanics as they get in touch with their thoughts and feelings on a topic. By putting aside apprehension about the format of the writing, students can free up their creative side, power their critical thinking skills, and tap into ideas that linger below the surface. Free writing activities can help students overcome writer’s block, prepare them to learn, or help them process what they’ve learned.
There are many ways to utilize free writing activities in your homeschool classroom. You might try using free writing to:
*Spark ideas during the prewriting phase for a formal composition
*Assess students’ prior knowledge when beginning a unit of study
*Engage in critical thinking
*Come up with creative solutions to a problem
*Generate more development of an idea during the drafting phase for a formal composition
*Help students take a position when writing a persuasive paragraph or essay
*Give students low-stress writing practice to build writing fluency and/or grip strength
*Prepare students for a discussion activity
*Work through a conflict in literature or in life
*Understand another perspective
*Explore their interests or emotions
*Make personal connections to what they’ve learned
What is a Writing Prompt?
A writing prompt poses a question or specific writing task. Unlike free writing, a writing prompt sets parameters for the response. A writing prompt may stipulate the length, writing mode (expository, persuasive, narrative, or descriptive), and other aspects of the writing the students compose in response to the prompt. Generally, a writing prompt will allow the students some choice in how they choose to approach the topic, but the students must read the prompt carefully to be sure that they satisfy the requirements. It’s a good idea for the teacher to model how to read a prompt so that students understand how to look for the requirements.
Notice the requirements set by the teacher in this writing prompt: “Some people in life come and go. Think about a person in your life who has had an impact on the person you are today. Write an expository essay to people your age explaining how this person has impacted you in a positive way.” Note that this writing prompt gives instructions for the mode of writing (expository) and gives clear guidance on the content the writer must include (explain how a person in their lives has impacted them positively). This writing prompt also gives guidelines about the intended audience (“write…to people your age”). By establishing requirements in the prompt, the teacher communicates clear expectations to the student and sets him or her up for success in the writing task.
Why Writing Prompts are Helpful
Teachers often have students compose paragraphs or multi-paragraph essays in response to a writing prompt in order to help them practice their writing and/or to give them opportunities to demonstrate their learning. The teacher can design the prompt to elicit the specific skills they want to measure. The prompt in the section above would be used primarily to evaluate the student’s writing skills. The student’s response would help the teacher determine the following:
- Does the student understand what expository writing is?
- Can the student develop ideas using specific details?
- Does the student understand how to write a composition with a clear beginning, middle, and end?
- Does the student understand how to determine the appropriate word choice for a particular audience?
- Does the student demonstrate a mastery of mechanics appropriate for his or her age?
Some writing prompts are less about the writing itself and more about the student showing his or her understanding of the academic content being learned. Consider this writing prompt: “Write an essay explaining the chain of events that led to World War I. Your essay should be between 500-750 words.” This writing prompt could be used as a learning check or summative/final evaluation of a history unit. The writing activity would give the students a good opportunity to practice their writing skills, but it’s likely that the teacher would be looking mainly at student mastery of the content to determine success on the writing task.
How to Design an Effective Writing Prompt
In order for a writing prompt to be effective, the teacher must be very thoughtful about the skills he or she hopes to measure through the assignment. The wording must be easily understandable to the student and must set clear expectations and limits. If the assignment will be graded, it helps to provide the checklist or rubric the teacher will be using to evaluate the work. By knowing how the writing will be graded, the expectations will be clearer to the student. These expectations may include:
- The topic of the writing, though the student is usually allowed some choice in how to approach it
- The mode of the writing, sometimes explicitly stated and other times implied by the verbs used in the prompt (“explain” = expository writing; “persuade” ; “convince” = persuasive writing; “describe” = descriptive writing; “tell about” ; “remember” ; “think about” = narrative writing)
- The length of the writing
- The audience of the writing
- The required format of the writing (handwritten or typed, heading, spacing, font, etc.)
Designing effective writing prompts demands a great deal of time, energy, and expertise from the homeschool teacher. If you’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, consider Essentials in Writing. Offering complete writing curricula for grades 1-12, EIW provides a variety of effective writing prompts and accompanying checklists/rubrics. EIW will save you time and give your young writer all the tools he or she needs to be successful! Try our Level Wizard today to determine which level is right for your homeschool student.