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 Welcome Centers 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 as thinkers.

  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 our course?
  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

James R. Elkins’ page on Peter Elbow ( – part of section on Law and Writing which conveys the importance of freewriting across disciplines.

Designing Effective Writing Assignments – from the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at Ferris State University.

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