is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
Visit Our Online Store
Email Newsletter icon
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Using Free Writes to Encourage Reflection
Read and Write About It
Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

In free writing, teens are freed from customary rules in the interest of getting their thoughts and feelings down on paper. Correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation don’t matter in free writing. The only rule is to write without stopping. Writing nonstop frees up emotions and ideas. Limit writing to a brief time, no more than 3 minutes per question, so there’s no pressure to write at length. These techniques—deemphasizing correctness, writing without stopping, and writing for only a brief time—free teens to go straight to the heart of an issue and to tap directly into what they feel and think.

A free write may be used in an opening activity to activate their schema (background knowledge) and to help the group get into an emotional space needed to connect with the story. A free write may also occur after reading a story to provide a chance to reflect deeper on what was read. In every free write pose an open question, give students supported time to write, and provide opportunities to share.

Sharing personal writing should always be a choice. The strategies below give participants the opportunity to be in charge of what, and how much, they share from their personal writing:

  • Pair share: Two partners face each other and take turns reading some (or all) of their writing. Beforehand, model for the group what active listening looks and sounds like. (Learn about active listening in “6 Ways to Be a Better Listener.”)
  • Circle share: Sitting in a circle, the opportunity to share passes around the group. Teens can share as much or as little (for example, a favorite line) as they would like and are welcome to pass. Remember to go around the circle twice, as some teens who passed early on may now be ready to share.

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
horizontal rule