To avoid the “I don’t know what to write about” mantra, I set students up for writing success by introducing the Writing Ideas Chart. They keep the chart in their writing folder for reference. If a student sits too long staring at a blank sheet of paper, I ask them about their writing chart. They perk up, pull it out, and get to writing!
I began by telling students that good writers make sure to have lots of ideas in their pocket so that they always have something to write about. Then I said, “We’re going to brainstorm ideas…like real writers do. We’re going to write them on our idea chart and keep it in our writing folder. Whenever we can’t think of anything to write about, we just whip out the old idea chart. Okay, first, I’m going to brainstorm some ideas and write them on my big chart paper here.”
While brainstorming, I elaborated on a particular idea, then continued brainstorming. I did this so that when it was time to choose a topic, I could pick the one I was passionate about because good writers write their best pieces on topics that interest them. Occasionally, students would shout out their own ideas and I would add them to the chart.
After my brainstorming session, I gave each student an Idea Chart. Most children at this age are exiting the preoperational stage and thinking is still egocentric. For that reason, the topics on the idea chart are personal and relevant to students’ lives. I had them read each category aloud. I told them they had 15 minutes to brainstorm as many ideas as they could about each category and write them on the chart. “Are we ready to brainstorm?” I asked. I set the timer and the sound of scribbling filled the room.
After 15 minutes, I directed students to put down their pencils. Some groaned that they had run out of ideas. I told them my timing was perfect because they were going to do a Gallery Walk to get more ideas. Each student placed their chart on their desk. They walked around with their whiteboard and marker and read each other’s ideas. If they ran across an idea they liked, they jotted it down. After about 8 minutes students returned to their seats and added new ideas to their own chart.
I walked around as students worked and viewed their charts. If students were stuck for ideas on a section, I would question them to help them along.
Do you have any pets?
Do other family members, friends, or neighbors have pets that you like?
Do you have a favorite animal?
Have you seen any movies about animals?
Have you ever been chased by a big creepy animal?
The latter garnered tons of giggles and eased the tension. The student was able to write at least one thing and able to move on to the next category. I reminded students they do not have to fill up an entire box and it was okay if they didn't have anything to write in a particular box. These were just ideas and they could always add to the chart later.
We were short on time today, so the closure was a quick one. Planning would begin the following day. To get students thinking about what they would write about, I had them shout out their favorite idea from their Idea Chart. They welcomed the opportunity to yell in class. The teacher next door was not pleased, but everyone had an idea to write about!