How Writing Lights Up Your Brain

Writing is lit.

I was putting together resources to support teachers in weaving writing into their classes when I came across an article in the New York Times from a few years ago. The article discusses research that demonstrates how writing–brainstorming and creative writing, in particular–affect brain activity. One stand out passage goes as follows:

Some regions of the brain became active only during the creative process, but not while copying, the researchers found. During the brainstorming sessions, some vision-processing regions of volunteers became active. It’s possible that they were, in effect, seeing the scenes they wanted to write.

Though it doesn’t appear in the Times article, the original research report does include a fascinating image of brain activity:

In addition to the relationship between writing and visualization, I was intrigued by this passage as well, which suggests speech itself supports the writing process in some fascinating ways:

As the scientists report in a new study in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of expert writers appeared to work differently, even before they set pen to paper. During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.

What are the implications for teaching writing? For sure, the report further compels me to emphasize to teachers to avoid separating writing from drawing from speaking. It’s all intertwined and students often benefit from multimodal approaches.

Image courtesy of Tom Liam Lynch | Gradgrind's
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