Updated: Jul 26
Over the years, in different ways, I have tried to build in a way for students to write about whatever they wanted. Some years I gave kids ten minutes per class to write about what they wanted. Some years I set aside Fridays to do 45 minute free-writing sessions. Sometimes I would block off the few weeks after state testing and use all of that time for free-writing and portfolio creating...It really just depended on the class and the time available between the curriculum requirements. Below are materials that I used for my free-writing lessons. A lot of the materials are PowerPoints of prompts that I would go through to give the kids some ideas about what to write about. Some are more formal creative writing assignments.
I hope that some of these resources are helpful to you.
When I taught freshmen, I used to set aside 45 minutes on Friday to let kids write about whatever they wanted. Sometimes we would use that time to brainstorm and draft, and other times we would use that time to edit and submit polished pieces. The PowerPoints below are presentations that I would use on drafting days. I would typically give kids 2 or 3 minutes to write about whatever was on the slide, repeat until the end of the PowerPoint, and then give kids 20-30 minutes to expand on an idea that they found interesting.
Get to Know You/Beginning of the Year
Whenever I was doing a choice-writing unit with my students, I would teach them Vicki Spandel's 6-Traits so that we had some common language for revision and assessment. I found her book and techniques to be very helpful in helping me build common classroom language for good writing.
My advanced and grade level students always enjoyed the chance to do what they wanted to with their writing. My self-contained kids are another story for another post, BUT the point is that even though the kids enjoyed the writing exercises, it took me a while to figure out how to have all of these small exercises add up to something. For the first few years, we just did the free-writing as part of the class, and then every two weeks I would ask the kids to pick their favorite piece and "publish" it (by editing it and submitted it to me or posting it on Blackboard.)
Then in one of my graduate classes, we were allowed to research whatever classroom practice that we wanted, and I took the chance to figure out how to try and organize writing portfolios. What this turned into, and the format that I was happiest with, was having the kids free-write every day for ten minutes. Every two weeks they would revise, edit, and "publish" the piece, and then keep their pieces in a folder (digital or paper). At the end of each quarter, they would reflect upon and evaluate their pieces in some way, and then at the end of the year, they would put it all together in one final portfolio. I did not get to do all of these steps every year (just depending on the class and curriculum) so the assignment sheets below reflect different requirements for different years and different classes. All of these assignment sheets and the process as a whole came from Power & Portfolios by Jim Mahoney. I read this book and it really helped me figure out how to tie it all together.
On the last day of school or whenever the kids turned in their portfolios, I would have each kid read one of their pieces to the class for an end of the year coffee house. This was always my favorite day of the year.
Portfolio Assignment Sheets
Quarter 1 Portfolio Self-Assessment (all grades)
The open-endedness of the portfolio made it hard for some of my grade level kids to put it all together by themselves, so I created this template that would make their lives easier:
Portfolio Mini Lessons
Paragraphing Website Whenever the kids started creating their own pieces, regardless of their age or grade level, they would have trouble figuring out where to put the paragraph breaks. I found this website to be helpful and accessible to them.
I hope some of these materials are helpful to you. I have more resources for mini-lessons but I am not sure where they are hiding right now. As I dig them up, I will post them. If you have any materials related to free-writing, mini lessons, or portfolios that you would like to share with others, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.