Thursday, March 9, 2017

Writing from Novice Learners

This semester, I have been doing a number of free writes in my Latin 1 classes. Though I still implement timed writes (which to me is usually attempting to re-tell a story in the target language which we have been going over in class), I have also been giving opportunities for students to write whatever they want in Latin based on input.

As writing is an output activity, it is important that we bathe students in input to such a degree that output is a natural overflow of that input. This is why I like implementing timed writes - after going over a story 6-7 different ways over 3-4 days, all of that input from that story has somewhere to go as output. Free writes, however, are different. To me, free writes are exactly that: students have the chance to create and to write freely whatever they want in the target language and are not spitting back a story. I usually give them a prompt of some kind and then let them write for X amount of time.

Having students do free writes has been a very interesting experience so far, and I am learning SO much about language acquisition theory in the process, especially for novice learners.

  1. As not every student acquires language at the same rate, I have to accept that students "will be all over the spectrum" when it comes to output. There are students whose extent of writing output is being able to re-combine a seen list of vocabulary to create sentences, while others are able to create and to fashion sentences on their own. Guess what? Each of those examples is perfectly fine. The important thing to remember is that every individual student is exactly at the point where he/she is at; I cannot force students to progress at my pace. My sole job is to continue to immerse my students in understandable messages to aid them along their individual output continuum.
  2. Output is going to be MESSY!! Messy to me, that is. To the student, however, most likely they are completely unaware of their errors, which is fine, because that is where they are at in their language acquisition. I love the following cartoon:
  3. I am surprised at the number of students who are writing compound sentences on their own. In many ways, I do not think that they realize that this is actually "complex," because they are constantly hearing and reading compound sentences in the target language. In many ways, they cannot help but write compound sentences due to vast amount of input examples.
Some examples of free-write activities


  1. Would you share some examples of topics you give to novice students for their free writes? Thanks so much! I love reading your blog.

    1. Usually it is a rather general prompt of a story, where a character, setting, and problem are established, e.g. "Wanda is eating a cookie on the couch. Suddenly, someone knocks on the door. Wanda heads for the door and opens it..." One can use prompts such as "Tell me about your family," but I have found that a) students do not find that prompt interesting and b) not every student is in a pleasant family situation. Since I teach Latin through stories, I want their timed writes to reflect them creating stories on their own.