What Are Some Strategies My Students Can Use To Generate Ideas When
They Don't Know What They Want To Write?
This can easily be done in or out of class. Students
are simply told to write whatever comes to mind for ten minutes (can be about
a particular topic or can be totally open). They are instructed to keep the
pen or pencil moving the entire time and not to pause to "think"
during the writing. If they draw a blank, they can write about how they can't
think of anything to write about. Students then reread the freewriting for possible
topic ideas that could be developed. It should be noted, however, that if this
causes anxiety for the writer, it can be adapted. For example, students can
be instructed to have a ten-minute "freethinking" time before being
asked to do the freewriting.
Students often benefit from simply having conversations
about possible topics. For example, students can be put into groups of three
and instructed to brainstorm ten words that they feel are significant to the
content being covered in class. After making the list, they can discuss possible
topics related to each word. They can also ask questions of each other in pairs
to help elicit thinking about possible topics. Another way to use discussion
is to engage students in seminar style discussions which can help them identify
and articulate main ideas from a text that may become topics for writing.
Students can be instructed to reread their notes
from a particular unit with an eye toward "unanswered questions"
that they could pursue to deepen their understanding of what they have been
studying. Students can also be instructed to reread significant texts and mark
them while reading to identify the ideas that seem most significant or intriguing
The teacher can give students an arbitrary number
(such as 10 or 15) of items to come up with that are related to the general
topic being studied in the class as a way of thinking up possible directions
to take a writing assignment. By telling students to go beyond the first five
or six things that come to mind, teachers help students think of the less obvious,
but possibly very rich, ideas.
A software program designed especially to
help develop ideas and organize thinking, Inspiration can help students capture
their ideas using an intuitive interface which focuses attention on thinking
rather than technical issues.
In pairs or
small groups students "think through" writing ideas by using instant
messaging or emails to discuss where they want to go with their writing. Students
may even be able to use some of this writing to "jump start" their
brainstorming about the topic.
Students may have an idea of a large topic but
need help focusing the topic. In that case, clustering can be very helpful.
The student writes the larger topic in a circle on the middle of a page in the
form of a "nucleus word" (Rico, p. 35). Then, in circles outside
of the original circle, the student rapidly writes down connections that come
to mind so that they radiate outward in whatever direction seems natural.
Students are told to "dump" what
they know about a topic in a ten-minute write. They then reread what they wrote
and list three possible writing topics that could emerge from the dump.
In Sociology, students list 10 social problems that they feel may affect
students at their school. They then use that list as a starting point for coming
up with possible topics for a proposal to be presented to the school administration
offering a way that the school community can help offer support to these students
and, in some small way, help with solving that problem.
In Keyboarding, students use Inspiration to help them brainstorm ideas for
a paragraph assignment on how learning keyboarding skills can make a person
more attractive to potential employers.
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