Freewriting exercise: The Writing Well

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete.

Although it’s is one of the most necessary and helpful steps of the writing process, brainstorming can stump a reluctant writer—even if she’s using a worksheet, graphic organizer, or parent prompting.

You:    What comes to mind when you think of the beach?
Child: Sand and water.
Great! What else?
Child: That’s all I can think of.

And that’s on a good day!

Prime the Pump

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete. That’s why WriteShop repeatedly emphasizes the need for adequate brainstorming as a routine part of the writing process. But if their well is dry and they can’t come up with enough words or ideas, their compositions will fall flat.

To keep ideas fresh and flowing, students need to prime their writing pumps on a regular basis. By practicing frequent brainstorming—especially when there’s no added pressure to write a composition—they’ll discover that they can think of words more quickly and abundantly. An freewriting exercise like the Writing Well is a perfect training tool!

The Writing Well

The “Writing Well” is a freewriting exercise designed to stimulate vocabulary, ideas, and impressions on a particular topic. It makes a good pre-writing activity, but it’s really brainstorming practice in disguise!

Kept in a small notebook, these brainstorming results can also become a “seed book”—a resource, word bank, or collection of ideas—when writing future compositions.

Student Directions

  1. You will find it helpful to keep your “Writing Well” in a spiral notebook for easy reference.
  2. Use a separate page for each topic. You may use both front and back if you wish.
  3. Before beginning, choose a topic and write it at the top of the page. Then set the timer to write for five full minutes.
  4. The purpose of this exercise is to write down all the words, phrases, or sentences that come to mind about your chosen topic within the five minutes allotted.

If you get stuck, try some of these ideas:

  • Picture the topic in your mind. Use your five sensessight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—to describe details.
  • Ask yourself questions about the subject matter—who? what? when? where? why? how?
  • Use a photograph or magazine picture to jog your thoughts.

At first this activity may seem difficult. You may wonder: How can I write about one thing for five whole minutes? Relax! Over time you’ll find that it has become more natural to transfer ideas from your head to your paper.

Some of these exercises will lend themselves to becoming compositions. Put a colorful star at the top of the page if you might like to develop this into a paragraph or story in the future.

Parent Tips

In the beginning, your child may have trouble writing for five full minutes. Perhaps you could set the timer for three minutes, then increase it to four, and finally to five over the course of several weeks.

If your student brainstorms very generally about a topic, you might suggest next time that she narrow her topic even further. For example, if she writes on the topic of animals, she’ll probably include a list of many kinds of animals. Next time, have her select just one of those animals (such as dogs, monkeys, or whales) and make a “Writing Well” for that subtopic, including as many details as she can.

Should your student repeatedly make lists of words only, challenge her to begin writing descriptive phrases, too. Sometimes these will be factual and sometimes experiential. For example:

If she’s writing about “red,” words and phrases might include:

  • ketchup
  • stop signs
  • making Valentines for my family
  • embers glowing in the fireplace
  • fire engines
  • Dorothy’s ruby slippers
  • the crimson sunset on our vacation in California

If she’s writing about Grandma, phrases might include:

  • baking chocolate cookies together
  • lives in an apartment in Miami
  • smells sweet like roses
  • takes a ceramics class in her clubhouse
  • silver hair
  • favorite color is pink

The random list of “red” words and phrases probably won’t ever be developed into a paragraph. On the other hand, the “Grandma” list definitely has potential to become a great descriptive composition at some point.

Writing Well Topics

Are you ready? Dip your ladle deep into the Writing Well and pull up a full, soaking draught of words and ideas. Then spill them over a fresh page—and let the writing begin. Here are some topics to get you started!

  • a famous place I would like to visit
  • my dream car
  • gardens
  • books
  • animals (farm animals, jungle creatures, pets, birds, insects)
  • birthdays
  • the beach
  • fishing
  • obeying
  • snow
  • sounds that make me happy (nervous, afraid)
  • my childhood toys
  • my favorite meal
  • my grandpa (or other family member)
  • our pantry
  • Saturdays
  • things I like about myself
  • heaven
  • the color blue (orange, yellow, gray, green)
  • things that make me feel cozy
  • new uses for duct tape
  • If cars could fly…
  • If I had to live underwater…

Copyright © 2012 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

“The Writing Well” is one of the supplemental writing activities tucked into the appendix of the Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and II.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr. Other photos courtesy of stock.xchg. Used with permission.


  • Posted January 13, 2012

    JoJo Tabares

    EXCELLENT! I have kept several notebooks and self-generated emails full of topics and ideas for years.

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  • Posted January 13, 2012


    That’s awesome, JoJo!

  • Posted January 13, 2012


    Thank you for the helpful ideas.

  • Posted January 13, 2012


    You’re welcome, Teri! Thanks for visiting!

  • Posted February 21, 2012


    I do the same thing! I keep several notebooks of words and phrases, just for spinning out future poems, along with other notebooks for creating longer pieces.

    My niece does something similiar! An ardent diarist, she returns to her diaries with a highlighter pen, choosing words and phrases that she can then develop into poems and short stories.

    • Posted March 2, 2012


      I think your niece is brilliant, Janet!

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