The impact of 'Free Writing'

‘Writing gives me the opportunity to explore ideas, play with language, solve problems, use my imagination, and draw on my own childhood.’ - Jack Prelutsky

Free Writing Friday is something our children have enjoyed for several weeks now after I had spent time actively looking for something to fill the gap for writing practise that was not bound to a topic or a structure. ‘Free reading’ or ‘reading for pleasure’ are terms that we are all familiar with, and we know the importance of this because of the impact it has on the level of creativity that follows into writing, whether it be through the creative choice of vocabulary, the cleverly structured characters, or the beauty in the description of a setting. But what about writing for pleasure?

After discovering this initiative from Cressida Cowell (author of ‘How To Train Your Dragon’) I realised that we could use this to reap many educational benefits. No genre, no marking, no criteria, no structure, no stimuli. Pure imagination. So often children leave little poems, notes and stories on my desk and the amount of pride and pleasure they take in producing these is heart-warming. This sense of achievement in something so personal that they have produced needs harnessing, for confidence and creativity. We cover a vast range of topics in school so that, during lessons, our students write with real purpose with targets to develop their ability. While this is the intended outcome and progress is important, there is still often a gap concerning enjoyment. This is particularly the case when composing non-narrative texts due to the structure, but a flare for language and vocabulary is a skill that can be honed and utilised for any written or oral purpose.

Our experience so far

The immediate reaction was surprising, given such freedom to write unnerved some. During the first session, a handful of children found poems to copy but did not create anything of their own. I quickly realised that this would be a slower process with some and that, due to the unfamiliarity of the task, they would need gently guiding to tune in to their own imaginations. A way around this was to offer them an ‘inspiration’ option, where they could search for an image to get them started. This proved to be a popular choice and the selection was entirely their own.

Another initial thought I had was that, if children are told that they do not have to include anything in particular (in terms of punctuation) would they choose to leave it out deliberately? In short, no. Working at an increasingly tough standard over several years and knowing how to use punctuation is not an easy habit to suddenly break. If they know how to use it, they will use it because they know it makes their work read more coherently. Because this is work that is entirely their own, it makes sense that they would want to use what they know to emphasise their talents. What you will find is that children use this as an opportunity to test out some of their new grammar knowledge and will double check its usage with you and their peers because they want it to be accurate as well as impressive.

As an end result, the range of work I have seen so far is astounding. Unicorn stories, haunted house mysteries, limericks, Minecraft tales, random (and disgusting) recipes and a fictional weather forecast have all featured in just one session. In half an hour, children can write complete masterpieces or single chapters. The length and the detail is entirely up to them, as is the freedom to leave work incomplete and start something new, which is another aspect they appreciate. We do not always anticipate that students get stuck for ideas when providing them with lots of good examples and meaningful feedback in lessons, but they do. In a free writing session they have an opportunity to start again with new ideas so when they don’t have this option in a lesson at a later date, they come up with the resilience to get on with a task they find tough because they don’t always have to. Having ‘Free Writing’ to balance out structured writing lessons strikes a perfect balance for ownership, control and imagination.

The Year 5 students at NOPA thoroughly recommend it!

Lyndsey Frost - Year 5 teacher