How many times have we heard from our students that one of the most challenging aspects of writing for them is coming up with ideas? And the answer that we usually give them is: “You should just practice more/you need to read more/just keep writing.” However, I believe this advice would work more effectively if we gave students some directions or provided them with specific examples of simple activities they can do outside of the class to develop their invention skill.
Based on student feedback, what I found really helps students develop their creativity and brainstorming skills, as well as their critical thinking, is something we all are well familiar with—freewriting. In this entry, however, I will discuss “freewriting with a twist,” that is, reading-based freewriting.
In other words, I prefer that students do not just freewrite on a random topic (which oftentimes is hard to come up with in the first place), but that they combine a freewriting component with their reflection on a reading.
This activity has a better result if done on a regular, preferably daily, basis. The entire activity should not take more than 20 minutes. Students will read a short passage of their selection: a news report, a short article in a newspaper or a magazine, an online blog entry, or anything else that can stimulate their thinking. The examples of such readings are numerous. As the purpose of the reading is to serve as a starting point for generating ideas and the writing process, I suggest that students select relatively easy readings, which are appropriate for their proficiency level. Once the reading is done, students will start freewrite.
The guidelines for this reading-based freewriting are the same as for “regular” freewriting. That is, students should write without stopping, and they should not worry about whether their ideas are good or the grammar is correct. You could also help students to better understand the purpose of this freewriting activity—to respond to the reading and to elaborate on the points taken by the author—by giving them some guiding questions. Here are some examples of the questions to direct students in their freewriting process:
- What did you find interesting in this passage?
- Do you concur with the author’s position?
- What point(s) from the passage did you find particularly aligned with your own position?
- Were there any points made that you strongly disagree with?
- What are some other topics that overlap with the one discussed in the passage?
- How can these points be taken from a different perspective?
Some learners may find it difficult to elaborate on a reading, so they would want to simply summarize the passage. But that’s a great start! By summarizing the passage, they may come up with excellent ideas that they can later use in their writing.
The feedback that I received from the students who tried this reading-based freewriting activity was very positive. They liked the variety of the topics they encountered in the readings, and although some of the passages were challenging for them with regard to the ideas presented by the authors, this activity let them free up their mind and develop their own ideas by making associations and connections with the reading.
Some students also noticed that their reading skills improved and they became much more motivated readers. Others commented on a larger amount of exposure to authentic materials outside of the class, which made them use English more frequently. However, the most rewarding outcome of this reading-based freewriting activity is, of course, a better ability to generate ideas. Since students are encouraged to read passages from a variety of fields and areas (e.g., business, politics, social sciences, art, religion), their knowledge on those topics and subjects noticeably increases and, what is more important, they become more confident in writing on those topics.