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Freewriting, focused sentences, and generative themes: Finding your niche

Missions
Dec 31, 1969
Image for a mission on Youth Voices

At the beginning of each new project, inquiry, or writing assignment you should create substantial personal, committed, passionate pieces of writing. It's a good idea to collect your freewriting, focused sentences, and more freewriting in Google Docs (or a similar platform) that you can share with your teacher and others. It's important to give the time, not just at school but at home as well.

Over time, along with your teacher and your peers you will be able to identify the "generative themes" (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 3, pp. 96 & 97) that begin to bubble up in your writing. This type of really free, habitual freewriting is an important first step -- and ongoing, underground spring -- that allows your projects and and essays to become "a practice in catalyzing passion and creativity," not just another school assignment.

Once you begin to write into an area of inquiry, your can take your next step "by finding niche learning communities that each kid might want to be a part of and build on that." (John Seely Brown. Lecture, 1.18.05) Helping you to create and find these niches is what "creating discussions" in a school-based social network such as Youth Voices is all about.

A good place to begin the process of creating a discussion on Youth Voices is to freewrite about a self-selected question. You've probably heard a teacher say, "Let's start by writing non-stop, anything that comes into your head about anything that is important to you right now." It takes some time, but you should begin to believe that a lot of teachers mean this, at least we do. We really do want you to write about something that you care about, not just what you think we want you to write. Peter Elbow's description of freewriting in Writing Without Teachers (1973, 1998) is still a good place to begin.

The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don't stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can't think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write "I can't think what to say, I can't think what to say" as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop.

After freewriting, the next step is to write a Focused Sentence, a perfectly written, opinionated sentence that re-states your entire freewrite. Then you should freewrite again, this time starting with the Focused Sentence. You will soon get used to shifting your composing gears this way: beginning with open, expansive writing, then writing a careful, precise, power-packed sentence, then going back to expressive, quick writing. This follows Peter Elbow's "Open-ended Writing Process," which he describes in another book, Writing With Power (p. 58, 1981, 1998):

  • Write for fifteen or twenty minutes without stopping ... make sure to let the writing go wherever it wants to go.
  • Pause and find the center or focus or main point in what you wrote. Write it down in a sentence.
  • Use that focusing sentence for a new burst of nonstop writing...

One additional way you can to "re-present" your generative themes (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 109) is by coming up with five tags or keywords. When you come to a stopping point, think of five words to describe your writing so far. "If someone were to search for this piece of writing online, what keywords would lead them to your writing?" This is akin to asking you to write a "focused sentence." You may need to to re-read and think about what you are really trying to say in your writing. Later, we'll ask you to add these words to the top of your discussion posts on Youth Voices. You'll see how keywords give you the power to find others who have also published about this theme, which then allows you to respond to these students, and possibly to read their future posts.

Elbow might explain that once you have finished this process, you "have used two kinds of consciousness: immersion, where you have your head down and are scurrying along a trail of words in the underbrush; and perspective, where you stand back and look down on things from a height and get a sense of shape and outline." (Writing With Power, p. 52.)

Here's and example.

See the Revision Guide.

All Missions: Grouped by Channel

Looking for ideas? We invite all students and their teachers to use these projects to create discussions at any time. Choose a title in the list below to find detailed instructions and examples.

Are you a power user of Youth Voices? Check out Youth Voices Challenges and Tasks (aligned with Common Core Learning Standards), (Revised September 2012), and Play Youth Voices.

Check out the articles (PDFs) students and teachers have collected for each other in this Youth Voices Personal Crocodoc folder. Add folders with new topics and add PDFs of articles that you think others might find helpful int their research. How to video for using and adding PDFs in the Youth Voices Crocodoc Folder.

Gooru Collections: Find resources to support students' inquiries.

Members of Youth Voices can Create a Mission, Add a Page, and Add a Wiki.

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