Why you should limit writing exercises

Why you should limit writing exercises

Students need to be given more opportunities to write and to write more. An easy exercise to encourage more writing is to encourage free writing time, but for many students a blank page and complete freedom can be paralysing.

Reluctant writers often find the openness of free writing to be daunting and struggle to begin. The panicked search for a suitable topic and the pressure of a blank page can eat into the allocated time, which means your students aren’t actually writing during writing time.  

Imposing limits on writing exercises can actually help free up students to get on with the task of writing. There are a range of restrictions you can set, with multiple limits often suitable for different tasks.

Set a topic
Establishing a topic for students to write about banishes the paralysis about not knowing what to write about. It also allows students to concentrate on the art of composing their writing because they know what to write about.

Setting a topic can be as specific as discussing a topic covered previously in the class or as unlimited as responding to a prompt question, image or a concept.  

Set a time limit
Setting a time limit can impose a sense of urgency, with a short timeframe encouraging students to just get on with writing. Short writing tasks are good for encouraging creative thinking and writing practice. Longer writing tasks can be used for students to practice planning and considering what they will write before they begin writing.  

Set a word or sentence limit
Word limits can stop a writing task from seeming overwhelming. However, length restrictions can be problematic as students focus on the quantity, not the quality of the words.

To focus on the quality of writing, give students a small number of characters, words or sentences to convey their message. This exercise should focus on clarifying and editing their writing to fit the limit.

Set a first draft limit
Oral rehearsal of sentences prior to putting pen to paper is known to significantly enhance writing. Any errors can be ‘ironed out’ before writing is committed to screen or paper. Show students how to ‘say’ sentences using notes before writing them. They should rehearse the sentence a couple of times and, when happy with the way it sounds, write it down.