Troubleshoot K-5 Students Free-Writing

Troubleshoot K-5 Students’ Free-Writing
Susan Koehler
Excerpted, with permission from

TheCompleteK-5WritingWorkshop_cover.jpgLooking for an easy-to-use troubleshooting guide to solve K-5 students’ most common free-writing problems? Well, look no further!

When students are stuck and can’t think of what to write:

  • Encourage them to make a list of the things they enjoy doing.  
  • Have them list people and places that can become characters and settings.         
  • Suggest that they make a list of topics they know a lot about.     
  • Point out a classroom object or area and have them write to describe it.               
  • Direct them to write about the things that have happened since they walked into your classroom.          

 When students say they have finished writing:              

  • Ask if they would like to conference with you and revise this piece for classroom publication.
  • Suggest that they re-read for specific writing-craft skills that have been a focus of reading lessons. For example, suggest that they go back and look for descriptive attributes relating to character or setting; point out a place where they can add clues for inference rather than making a direct statement; have the student identify overuse of the word “then” and replace it with appropriate transitions.                 
  • Challenge students to try out a new genre, like writing a skit or a comic book.  

When students are reluctant to share their free-writing with you:  

  • Respect their privacy and build trust. Trust is the basis of your relationship with your students and is the foundation on which discipline is built.                 
  • Tell them you don’t have to read their free-writing pieces, but you would like to know the topic and genre. This will help you maintain control of the free-writing environment without stifling students.         
  • Ask them to identify a classmate with whom they would like to share their work.
  • Work with them to set a date when they will share their writing with you.        
  • Share your own writing with them to build a sense of community and shared experience.

When students want to draw during free-writing time:

  • Drawing can often serve as a catalyst for writing. Give students a time limit for sketching, after which point they should begin writing about the picture. Help younger students create a word bank associated with the picture.                  
  • Students who enjoy drawing may enjoy creating cartoons. Have students sketch cartoon boxes and write text in speech bubbles. After revising and editing, students can publish cartoons on folded strips of paper.      
  • Challenge students to create a rebus story.         
  • Write a poem about one of their drawings to model a possible written response.           

    When students don’t want to stop free-writing to move on to your mini-lesson:          
  • Even though it is difficult to stop a student from writing, you must reconvene your class for the mini-lesson.    
  • Encourage students to jot down five or fewer words to serve as memory triggers when they return to the piece.                  
  • Allow students to take their free-writing journals home to continue writing, with the assurance that they will return the journals to school the following day.                
  • If you are having this problem with several students, you may want to collect journals at the end of free-writing time and keep them in a box or on a shelf. Allow students to have access to journals at other points during the day if they finish assignments early.