Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to engage in informal writing assignments (i.e. reader response, freewriting, focused freewriting, prediction, response journals, dialectical notebook entries, and other pieces of writing that they do not take through the entire writing process) as well as prewriting and draft-stage reflection to help guide them and make meaning of their writing choices.

Instructions for Students

Throughout the school year you will frequently be asked to spend time writing in these journals. Your writing may take many forms. Sometimes you will use your journals to reflect on readings or content, sometimes you will freewrite on an assigned prompt or topic (see below), and sometimes your journals will be used to help you think about, reflect, and pre-write for formal paper assignments.

The form of your journal is up to you, as is the kind of journal you use. I suggest you don’t go any smaller than a traditional composition notebook (7 ½ X 9 ¾). You don’t want your journal to be so small that you feel confined while writing it and spend more time turning pages than filling them up. When/if you do run out of space, you’ll need to start a new journal.

You can decorate your journal however you like, and should get used to carrying it around with you. You’ll need to bring it to class every day.

Ms. Treece will be reading your journals periodically throughout the year, and you will occasionally be asked to share your journal writing with your classmates. Your journal writing will never be corrected. Grammar, spelling, and structure will not be graded in your journals.

Also, if there is anything in your journals that you feel is too private, and that you do not wish to share, you can fold over and staple the pages, or cover private passages. Ms. Treece will not disturb covered or stapled pages, and will not ask you to share them.

Freewriting 101

When your journal assignment asks you to freewrite, the following will help you get started...

Freewriting helps you identify subjects in which you are interested. It assumes that you know your interests subconsciously but may not be able to identify them consciously, and it assumes that you can bring your interests into consciousness by writing about them (as writing equals thinking). Freewriting is like stream-of-consciousness writing in which you write down whatever happens to be in your thoughts at the moment. After you do a number of freewritings, you may find that you have come back to certain subjects again and again. Repeated subjects are good for further development through writing, as they obviously are important in your thoughts.

To freewrite, take out your journal and get a kitchen timer. If you are freewriting to get ideas for an upcoming assignment, you'll want to read it over and look at some of the "inspirations and examples" links on the website. Once you feel like you "get" what the assignment is about, find a comfortable place to write, and set the timer for five minutes. (You may not end up writing in response to this prompt, but keeping it in mind may help direct your thoughts that direction.)

Write down whatever comes into your head during the five minutes without concerning yourself with complete thoughts, whole sentences, or correct spelling or punctuation. Don't even be concerned about making sense in the writing. Just concentrate on recording your thoughts and filling as much space as possible before the five minutes elapse. If you can't think of anything to write, just write "don't know don't know" until you have other thoughts. If you think that this exercise is stupid, then write "this is stupid this is stupid" until you have other thoughts. Remember, the purpose of freewriting is to fill as much space with as many words as possible in the five minutes of writing time. After the first five minutes, rest a minute and read over what you have written, then follow the procedure at least two more times. Stop at this point and do something else. Do another series of five-minute freewritings later in the day. You may be able to discern common threads (repeated ideas) after you do a number of freewritings. The ideas you repeat are good ones for essays as they obviously are ideas that interest you. Try to create a "storm" of ideas, not passing judgment on any of them or censoring any idea that comes to mind, no matter how apparently absurd it is. This is not the time to think about whether or not this idea will actually fit into a paper, and anything goes--main ideas, details, feelings, curse words, forgotten chores, whatever comes to mind: just keep writing!

Peter Elbow writes, “Freewriting is a useful outlet. We have lots in our heads that makes it hard to think straight and write clearly: we are mad at someone, sad about something, depressed about everything. Perhaps even inconveniently happy. “How can I think about this report when I’m so in love?” Freewriting is a quick outlet for these feelings so they don’t get so much in your way when you are trying to write about something else. Sometimes your mind is marvelously clear after ten minutes of telling someone on paper everything you need to tell him. (In fact, if your feelings often keep you from functioning well in other areas of your life frequent freewriting can help: not only by providing a good arena for those feelings, but also by helping you understand them better and see them in perspective by seeing them on paper)”  (Writing with Power—Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, 1981).


This ongoing assignment imagines students being frequently assigned to write informal texts in an uncontrolled and safe context. Students are allowed to share, or keep this writing private, depending on their needs. It imagines a space for students to begin and work through the early stages of the writing process, a space for prewriting and discovery, concept formation, and reflection. This journal, I would stress to students, will never be corrected, and is meant to be a space for reflection rather than performance. I mean to help them prolong the discovery process and keep them from crystallizing thoughts and ideas too soon, to play with approaches and techniques, and to develop habits of using freewriting and prewriting to work through early stages of thought formation.

Because this is a thinking and prewriting stage, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what standards are addressed here, but writing is a process, and this is a stage of it, so any standards that focus on a completed and polished production of text are aided by journaling and freewriting. As such, the writing journal approaches and contributes to standards involving Production and Distribution of writing such as "develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach,” and Range of Writing: "Write routinely over extended time frames… and shorter time."

Having Elbow’s lessons on freewriting as occasional options for journal entries would also help teach students practical approaches for starting writing projects in other disciplines and help them find and understand their own compositional pace, methods, motivations, as well as inspirational triggers and environmental requirements (where do you write best, think best, create best, and under what conditions are you inspired and productive?). Again, these further help students develop their own unique systems and practices as composers. (Not to mention, the freewrite's uses as a therapeutic tool, as Elbow describes in the excerpted quote included in the final paragraph of the assignment.)

The methods to assess the journal would focus on its importance as part of a process, rather than as a finished and final product, and would obviously need to respect the journal on the writer’s terms as a site of self-actualization. Paramount is the importance that students feel safe to write and not be judged and criticized in their journals.