Home > Strategies and Skill Development > Conceptual Strategy Families > Self-Explanation > Literature Note - Freewriting and Self-Explanation

Freewriting is a common strategy recommended when writers are beginning to develop their ideas. The technique requires the writer to forget about strategic control and planning, and just put words to the page, letting one idea lead to another, taking every chance to express oneself without worrying (yet) how those ideas will fit into a rhetorical plan (Elbow 1973, 1981). After freewriting has taken place, the text produced can be subjected to analysis, which may help the writer identify what is really significant and important, and to identify what really needs to be said (Elbow, 1994).

Self-explanation is a strategy recommended when readers need to deepen their understanding of a text. Readers write down what they understand the text to mean, worrying only about expressing their current understanding, without worrying about how closely the self-explanation tracks all details of the text. Afterward, the reader can compare the original text to the self-explanation, and perhaps discover aspects of the text that are not yet fully understood (Chi, 2000; Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reimann, & Glaser, 1989; McNamara & Magliano, 2009). The parallelism between the two techniques is worth noting. Both involve the use of expressive skills to force a clarification of ideas, and involve a temporary suppression of evaluation in order to facilitate the process. Under the proper circumstances, both techniques can enable reflection and thus support critical thinking.

In either case, the relevant causal factor is arguably what has been termed the self-explanation effect (Chi, 2000; McNamara, O'Reilly, Best, & Ozuru, 2006). Producing one's own explanation—whether of one's own ideas or another's—forces deeper processing, induces more connections between ideas (Pashler et al., 2007), and activates a variety of thinking processes (Graesser & Person, 1994). The literature indicates that people who spontaneously use self-explanation strategies show higher levels of comprehension (McNamara, Floyd, Best, & Louwerse, 2004), and that the ability to produce higher-quality explanations correlates with even higher levels of comprehension (McNamara, 2004).

Chi, M. T. H. (2000). Self-explaining expository texts: The dual process of generating inferences and repairing mental models. In R. Glaser (Ed.), Advances in instructional psychology. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Chi, M. T. H., Bassok, M., Lewis, M. W., Reimann, P., & Glaser, R. (1989). Self-explanations: How students study and use examples in learning to solve problems. Cognitive Science, 13, 145-182.

Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with power. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Elbow, P. (1994). Teaching two kinds of thinking by teaching writing. In K. S. Walters (Ed.), Re-thinking reason: New perspectives in critical thinking (pp. 25-31). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Graesser, A. C., & Person, N. K. (1994). Question asking during tutoring. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 104–137.

McNamara, D. S. (2004). SERT: Self explanation reading training. Discourse Processes, 38, 1-30.

McNamara, D. S., Floyd, R. G., Best, R., & Louwerse, M. M. (2004, June 22-26). World knowledge driving young readers' comprehension difficulties. Paper presented at the Embracing diversity in the learning sciences: The sxth international conference of the learning sciences, University of California Los Angeles, Santa Monica, CA.

McNamara, D. S., & Magliano, J. (2009). Toward a comprehensive model of comprehension. In B. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 51, pp. 297-384). Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

McNamara, D. S., O'Reilly, T., Best, R., & Ozuru, Y. (2006). Improving adolescent students' reading comprehension with iSTART. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 34, 147-171.

Pashler, H., Bottge, P., Graesser, A. C., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning (Report No. NCER 2007-2004). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences.

Home | About CBAL | Acknowledgments | Contact Us

© 2012 Educational Testing Service. The Common Core State Standards © copyright 2010 National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.