Free-choice writing can be difficult if students don’t know what to write about. Consider some of these grade-level suggestions to support topic generation.
Without the element of choice, the joy of writing, like the joy of reading, could suffer a terrible fate. “Readicide,” according to Kelly Gallagher, is “the systematic killing of the love of reading…” Gallagher’s book, Readicide, focuses on the negative, forced reading practices found in some schools.
Just as these practices remove the joy of reading, so the removal of free choice from writing can result in the same consequence for writing: writicide! However, if no one has any ideas, focus on idea gathering before turning students loose on free-choice writing. Writers forget how to dream up their own ideas without ample practice. Ease them back into thinking and dreaming with some of the following activities:
- Picture files–Put up a picture on flip-chart paper and do a class list of possible topics from that one picture.
- Show and Tell and Beyond–After a student shares, ask students to brainstorm topic ideas triggered by the shared item. Post the ideas on another flip-chart page.
- Expert Lists–Ask students to make lists of what they know a lot about. Kristina Smekens shares this idea in Launching the Writer’s Workshop: Grades K-2 and Grades 3-12.
- Silent Field Trips–Take your class on a quiet journey through the school or outside to gather topic possibilities.
- What do you do?–Make lists of hobbies, school activities, extra-curricular activities and then brainstorm different genres possible for different topics. (NOTE: These lists make great fuel for character development in fiction writing!)
- Window Watchers–Ask students to list everything they see or imagine as they look out (or at) a window for two minutes.
- What do you care about?–Provide some discussion time for peers to make lists of things that really matter to them (e.g., social issues, friendships, school or local problems, etc.). Let them talk and list in pairs or trios.
- Songs Inspire–Ask students to write down as many song titles as they can. From the list, challenge them to use one (or more) as an idea to write about. (Students may be able to combine several song titles into one piece.)
Consider allowing a little free-choice writing within the otherwise assigned writing. Free choice can freeing and refreshing. Sometimes it frees up a child who might otherwise remain sealed and silent.