First Free Writes

This is the last week of the semester for my German classes, and I had been annoyed with my German I classes in particular.  I gave my vocab test last week that most did fine on, but overall the class just came dragging into class asking “Can we watch a video?”  “Can we have a Party?” “Can we go outside?”  Basically, all the key phrases that mean “I don’t want to put forth any effort today and you’re going to have to drag it out of me.”  Grumble. Grumble.

Now normally I don’t do my first free writes with a class until coming up on fourth quarter of the first year, but I really needed (for my own sanity) to know exactly what they are capable of.  Yes, I don’t want to force output too early, but what this group really needed was a shift away from external motivation (videos, songs, party food, etc.) towards internal motivation (feelings of accomplishment, pride in a job well done, confidence of being able to do something).  So free writes it was.

So for this first free write I combined Ben’s basic rules ( ) together with MJ’s and Martina’s trick of doing a 1 minute write followed by a 3 minute write and then doing the 10 minute write ( and ).

Between each of the breaks, I had them tally up their words and ask me for any words they wanted.  I was a bit surprised how many of the basic words were requested–he, she, a, we–so I was glad they had the time.  Some people started getting exotic with their choices, so I just arbitrarily stopped answering vocab choices and we restarted.  What I like about this process is that it allows people some warm up time, and a chance to get their storyline set.

So we finished up and it ended up taking the most of the class period.  No complaints from the students, just a simple task at hand, reassurance that this was important to me to find out where they are and a countdown timer.  To be honest, I didn’t have all that great of expectations from this fast write as far as quantity.  When I did this last year the average amount of words after 10 minutes was about 50 the first time.

So I got home, pulled out the fast writes and was stunned.  The raw word counts from my most troublesome class were as follows:

79, 82, 112, 131, 53, 96, 82, 113, 105, 110, 126, 159, 112, 72, 90, 57, 103, 104, 127, 110, 109, 89, 175, 101,

Here’s those numbers in graph form

I would have been happy with an average of 55.  My slowest student outpaced that projection, and the majority almost doubled it.  Content-wise the essays are pretty solid too.  Some students were fairly repetetive and had some jerky storylines, but several stories were straightforward and solid enough to do a second year student credit.  I think I’ve been underestimating my students.

Today I showed them these numbers, told them how proud I was of them, and we were able to round out this semester on a high point.  Nothing like a little success to grease the skids. Thanks for all the great wrinkles on free writes because I really needed them today.

4 responses to “First Free Writes

  1. Thanks for sharing – it’s an important insight. Very encouraging too.
    Carol H


  2. The graph was helpful to look at. They aren’t all that scattered from one another which means you are teaching to the majority of the learners. Way to go! I imagine that once you didn’t cave into a video they got back into the swing of school. They were probably looking for the “no.” It is there job to test the adults and boundaries.


  3. Thank you Michele, the post is helpful and informative. I also enjoyed Besty’s(?) explanation as well.


    • Glad you liked it…but I have to point out that the credit goes to Nathan (we share the blog)! When it’s about Russian, I’m the author, and when it’s about German, it’s Nathan. He’s working on a dissertation, so he’s a little tied up, but his ideas and organization are always inspiring.


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