Writing is thinking

Education Realist is teaching Book Club/PSAT, aka “Asian summer school” to a class of straight-A students. Writing is thinking, she tells them.

 “See, when you say you don’t know what to write, you are actually saying…..”

“I don’t know what to think.”



“Indeed. How many of you google other essays and, please god, don’t copy them directly but take the ideas and rewrite them?” A few hands go up. “Yeah. DON’T DO THAT.”

“But I have no idea what to write.”

“Okay. So when you say you want to become a better writer, you are actually expressing the need to…”

“Become a better thinker?”

Her students want to know what their teacher wants them to say. She tells them to say what what’s on their own minds.

“But what if there’s nothing there?”

“. . .  if you don’t know what to think, then I’d rather you write articulately and carefully about why you don’t know what to think, instead of making something up.”

“And that will help my vocabulary?”

Only, if they learn to think about the meaning of words, she replies.

I agree. Clear writing requires clear thinking.

About Joanne


  1. She sounds like an awesome teacher.

    This point about thinking and writing is why I love, love LOVE our current homeschool curriculum (Kolbe Academy in California.) My Fourth Grader has to do a significant amount of writing each day, and the literature program teaches kids to support all their assertions with reasons from the text and to think about big questions as they read. So many highschool students lack these skills, so I’m glad Kolbe starts on them early!

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      This may sound harsh, but if you don’t already know this, you have absolutely no business being in any classroom where writing is either taught, graded, or discussed.

      On the basis of this, she sounds like an adequate teachers. She may be awesome, or she may be a terror in the classroom.

      But at least she’s got one basic idea down correctly. That this strikes people as “awesome” is more a commentary on the state of affairs than any indication of exceptional quality.

      (Shameless plug: for more on the topic of writing as thinking, see this post of mine at my quiescent blog: http://higheredintel.blogspot.com/2011/08/big-thinking-little-thinking.html )

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    There’s a story that Thomas Jefferson once apologized for the length of a letter. He’d have written a shorter one but he didn’t have the time.