Pre Writing- A Vital Component of The Writing Workshop

I find it increasingly gratifying to witness teaching practice in the writing workshop that recognizes the importance of the pre-writing phase of the process. I see fewer and fewer cold starts where the topic, or writing task is presented to a class and they are immediately instructed to begin writing. –Just like that. No rehearsal- no warming to the task.

Cold start writing was a common practice during my primary school days, Teachers dished out the topic and we began scratching away with our pens. We scrambled for thoughts and ideas, denied the opportunity to mentally plan or prepare. We waited for the teacher to inform us about what to write and we were unable to prepare our thoughts and ideas prior to the writing. Sadly, this approach has not been totally eradicated from the pedagogical practices of some schools. I remain hopeful of its eventual extinction. Getting ready to write is the foundation for producing an improved product. It is a courtesy we extend to the inexperienced writer.

Research findings show that employing pre-writing strategies improves student writing in terms of content, organization, and voice. It also improves student’s motivation and creativity towards writing. In order for pre-writing to be beneficial, it needs to be implemented in a variety of ways so students have the opportunity to find a pre-writing strategy that works best for their ability and their specific writing needs.

Pre-writing involves that critical time when thoughts are transformed into meaning and begin to be integrated into the writer’s action plan. It is the gestation period for writing ideas. James Britten says, ‘It is during pre-writing that the past experiences of the writer serve to colour facts according to the writer’s point of view.’ Sorting out, gives the writer a sense of direction. 

So, what should be happening at the early stage of the writing process?  Well, questions are critical. The writer needs to reflect on the purposes of the proposed writing piece.
What do I want to say here?
Why is it important to write about this? (the so-what factor)
How should I write this?
Who is my audience and what do they need from me?

Pre-writing can be further enhanced by employing listing and brainstorming to further tease out ideas for consideration. First, you try to create a wealth of possibilities, then you play around with those possibilities to determine what to work on, before moving into the writing. With these strategies, you aim to move from quantity to quality. 

Research indicates that where students are allowed to draw as a pre-writing activity, writing outcomes are enhanced. The writing produced in the research by those students who drew before they were asked to write was generally superior to those students who just wrote.

We should never underestimate the power of talk and discussion as a prelude to writing. Talk assists the writer to identify the real purpose and direction for their writing. Talk is a clarifier. It removes the fog of indecision that may initially surround the writer. Talk is an integral part of the pre-writing phase for developing writers. To deny the inexperienced writer this vital opportunity endangers the quality of the writing that eventually emerges on the page. 

Another pre-writing action might involve some ‘fast/speed writing to activate prior knowledge. These fast writes could then be put away and revisited at a later date to allow the writer a fresh perspective on their chosen topic. 

Pre-writing can involve looking at an experience from a different perspective. The writer might consider an alternative view point or purpose, audience or angle.

Pre-writing may involve experimenting with different leads, different genres, and different structures. Once students have had the opportunity to explore or consider different ways to organize their writing, they are better positioned to choose the form that best suits their individual writing goal. Time invested in pre-writing allows the student writer to make more informed decisions about their writing projections.

Alerting students to text structures and features of a particular genre and charting such discoveries is a pre-writing action that raises the writer’s awareness of the pertinent aspects of a particular form of writing. Sharing models of writing provide the writer with greater certainty regarding expectation. This allows the writer to see real evidence of the type of writing they are about to attempt in their own writing. 

Reading and research becomes an essential pre-writing activity when undertaking writing that aims to provide the reader with information. Young writers often lack a depth of knowledge about a chosen topic and it is critical to deepen the knowledge base before moving into the writing. This is an essential understanding for the student writer. 

Pre-writing might also involve rereading older writing entries in order to find new writing ideas. This is a form of research, as well as recovery.

There will of course be times when students are just bursting to write. We should not impede their progress. It's about knowing your student writers well and understanding their writing needs. If a student informs you they just need to write, it is a sign that they have most probably engaged in some form of rehearsal, prior to the workshop. We must be flexible in our approach and accommodate such differentiation. Motivation to write is a magical thing. We must nurture it.  

To know that there are choices when undertaking a writing task is empowering for the young writer. Placing the young writer in a position where they are able to make informed decisions is what shapes creativity.


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