Ideas for In Class Writing Activities
When lectures and discussions cover complex ideas, in class writing can
help facilitate student learning and understanding. There are generally
two types of in class writing - informal and formal. Formal in class writing
involves giving students time limits, clear standards on what material
you would like to be covered, and is generally turned in and graded for
content and form. Informal in class writing can be used to discover questions
for useful discussion, as well as to explore student connections to the
material. Peter Elbow suggests freewriting, which he defines as "writing
privately and without stopping" for up to ten minutes. He suggests
that "the main thing in freewriting is trusting yourself and trusting
your words: take a spirit of adventure. The no stopping doesn't mean you
have to hurry or be tense. .. Invite risks. Remember, freewriting is private"
(Being a Writer 5). We can incorporate freewriting into our classes
easily to generate student thoughtfulness, and to encourage students to
find their own voice as writers, and to begin to trace their own patterns
1. Give students a specific writing trigger that relates to your reading
assignments, or lecture content, as a beginning place for their in class
freewriting. Once the students have marked down the trigger you have given
them, check the clock, and ask them to start writing. The "rules"
of this could be that the only wrong way to fulfill the in class assignment
would be to not write for the entire time. Once the allotted time has
passed (whether ten minutes or shorter), ask students to discuss the connections
that came up for them from the freewrite.
2. Have students begin an informal in class piece of writing by giving
them a series of questions to answer related to their research in your
field. For example, you could ask them: What does your research suggest
are the facts? How do you interpret the facts given the particulars of
3. Ask students to brainstorm in small groups about one of their upcoming
assignments for your class. Have each student write for 5 minutes on what
they imagine will be most difficult about the assignment, and then use
their writing as a starting place for small group discussions.
4. Invite students to freewrite about a difficult concept in their reading
with the intended audience being their classmates. Next, ask them to freewrite
on the same concept with the understanding that their audience would be
a group wholly unfamiliar with the jargon and general information relevant
to the concept ( Third graders? Retirees?). Ask them to think about what
changes when they have to "back up" to explain the ideas involved.
Links for more ideas
R. Elkins' page on Peter Elbow - part of section on Law and Writing
which conveys the importance of freewriting across disciplines.
Effective Writing Assignments - from the Writing Across the Curriculum
Program at Ferris State University.
More about writing across the curriculum