While working on a writing project in class yesterday, my students and I were discussing different prewriting techniques to help them prepare to write the first draft. In class previously we had worked with listing, clustering, and freewriting. To be honest, I was sort of hoping that these techniques would be the ones they told me as I asked them how to prepare in this stage. While I eventually did get those answers across (either by getting them to tell me or, as a last resort, reminding them of we have been learning), in each class at least one student answered they would prepare for the writing by "thinking about it."
While I am all in favor of thinking, I see this answer as a cop out. What my students have predominantly meant by this over the years was that they would sit in their seat and do nothing physically while they pondered the topic. I am trying to get them to a point where they prepare for a writing task by picking up a pen or pencil. "Just thinking" about something is not the most effective way to prepare--unless it is coupled with the physical activity of writing the thoughts down.
I tried to come up with a way to get across to my students that thinking about something is not the same as doing something. I went bowling last week (this will connect, I promise). It occurred to me that I might be able to link up the way I bowl with "just thinking" about writing something.
When I bowl and it is my turn to fling the ball down the lane, I always try to take a moment or two. I stand there on the lane and think through my approach. Where is the best place to stand? What should I aim for? Where should I put the ball down to make it go where I want? I think through the proper form and the way to take the three steps and let loose.
After I told them this (to much rolling of eyes and irreverent bowling comments) I asked them if doing all that was bowling. The majority of my students yelled out no. They told me that just standing there thinking about bowling was not, in fact, the same thing as bowling.
I agreed with them and then pointed out that just as standing there thinking about throwing the ball was not bowling (and how much less when I am seated, waiting my turn, and thinking about how to improve my swing), sitting there thinking about what they wanted to write was not writing. Even if they were holding the pen in their hands.
The only way to bowl is to fling that ball at the pins. The only way to write is to put words on paper. Once either is done, then the work of improving it can truly begin.