To access Quick Links, visit our text-only version.

. Public Schools of North Carolina . . State Board of Education . . Department Of Public Instruction .

ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS RESOURCES

LANGUAGE ARTS :: SECONDARY RESOURCES :: WRITING HANDBOOK :: DEVELOPING FOCUS AND PURPOSE IN WRITING

DEVELOPING FOCUS AND PURPOSE IN WRITING

What Are Some Strategies My Students Can Use To Generate Ideas When They Don't Know What They Want To Write?

FREEWRITING.
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.

DISCUSSING.
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.

READING.
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 to them.

LISTING.
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.

USING SOFTWARE.
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.

WRITING INSTANT MESSAGES OR EMAILS TO FRIENDS.
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.

CLUSTERING.
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.

BRAIN DUMPING.
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.

Example
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.

Example
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.

<< Back | Table of Contents | Next >>