The process of writing begins with the author answering a basic question, “What do I want to say to the reader?” In order to answer this question, the writer generates or brainstorms ideas. Often the student will think about the main idea that he wants to communicate to the reader. Once a student makes a decision about what the main idea of the story, essay, or opinion is, he will begin to brainstorm more ideas that may make it into the piece writing. It’s important to note that not all ideas will make it into a piece of writing, nor should all be included.
The ability to brainstorm about a topic is closely related to how much a student knows about that given topic. Coming up with a lot of ideas and thinking divergently is helpful at this point in the writing process, though a student also must remember that the ideas need to relate to the main idea.
The capacity to come up with ideas, to elaborate, to think about objects or topics in a new way, all constitute part of what is referred to as creativity. Creativity represents an especially redeeming and important form of productivity. Students who are adept at brainstorming and thinking creatively will find these abilities beneficial to many other endeavors in school including problem solving, decision-making, ongoing understanding of concepts, and the ability to express oneself in writing. Every student should be helped to find areas in which he or she can discover an effective form of creative output. Creative thinking should be developed in school and at home.
Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to generate ideas during writing.
- Provide activities in which students engage in brainstorming and creative thinking to help to uncover latent strengths and provide a successful form of expression for a student in need of recognition.
- Create a safe environment in the classroom that is conducive to risk taking and promotes innovative thinking.
- Encourage students’ pursuits of affinities, or areas of focused interest. Incorporating affinities into the classroom may not only benefit student’s acquisition of skills, but may help students to move into an area of thinking they had not yet explored.
- Allow students to select materials, projects, writing topics, spelling words.
- Use high interest subject matter for creative activities. A student with an interest in baseball, for instance, may create a fictional story about a baseball legend or take a stance on a current issue, such as salary caps for professional players.
- Set aside a space in the classroom where students can go to strengthen their strengths and gain expertise in their affinity areas (e.g., Jonathon’s Cinema History Corner, Joanna’s Geological Arena).
- Allow students to create products using different formats, such as comics, TV scripts, magazine articles, and song lyrics.
- Develop activities that promote students’ ability to think ahead, or predict possible outcomes. For example: Implement collaborative activities in which students start with the same beginning and work in teams to predict outcomes, or all students start with the same outcome and work in teams to determine what led to the outcome, etc.
- In writing use story starter activities or collaborative writings where each student contributes a certain portion.
- Have a class discussion of “What if…” and keep posted for when students are need ideas. For example, “What if you came to school and no one else was there?” or “What if you woke up one morning and your dog could talk?” (Adapted from Fiderer, 1997).
- In social studies, have students make and write predictions about historical events before learning the actual outcomes. Stress the real-life benefits of estimating and reasoning to discourage the preoccupation students may have with just getting the answer.
- Teach reading and writing together. Have students decide what is important and put these ideas into their own words.
- Incorporate guided higher order thinking activities in order to promote students’ creativity, brainstorming, and critical thinking. For example: In English, “Write an alternative ending to Wuthering Heights uniting Catherine and Heathcliff in life,” “Why do you think E. B. White called his book Charlotte’s Web instead of ‘Wilbur or Zuckerman’s Farm’?”, “How did Sinclair Lewis poke fun at middle class America in Babbitt?” In social studies, “How might America’s history have been changed if Lincoln had not been assassinated?”, “How did events in post-World War I Germany lead to the rise of Nazism?”, or “What lessons does Nazism hold for events in Europe today?”. In mathematics, “How is trigonometry applied to the construction of bridges?” In science, “Are we making adequate progress in developing treatments for cancer?” (adapted from Sternberg & Spear-Swerling, 1996).
- Steps of the Creative Process (adapted from Wallas, 1926)
- Preparation – At this initial step, students will need to familiarize themselves with the problem at hand or the product they wish to create. The goal of the Preparation step is not to solve the problem, but to become intrigued by it.
- Incubation – At the second step, the task, problem or initial idea is put aside and no conscious effort is expended on the task. Creative people feel that this rest period may be a period in which the unconscious mulls over the problem.
- Inspiration – During this phase, the creator has a strong sense of the solution and/or the path to take in order to solve the problem.
- Verification – This step involves an intense period of work during which mental effort is expended to solve the problem or complete the activity in order to verify the initial inspiration.
- Provide prompts or story starters for students who have difficulty selecting a topic. These can be paragraphs, scenarios, one sentence, or a picture. For example, include what the audience is, who is telling the story, what the topic is, and the type of writing. The class can generate a list that is posted for students can be given a list to choose from when they are having difficulty coming up with an idea.
- Students can keep an “idea journal.” They can list five things they they’ll probably never forget have happened to them, a time line of big events in their lives, a funny or interesting news story they saw in a paper or magazine, a picture from a magazine or one they took.
- Have a collection of students’ favorite books that they can look through for ideas.
- Have students list things they would like to do if they had “Time on My Hands.” They can list 2 books they would like to read, 2 activities they’d like to try, a place they’d like to visit, a topic they’d like to learn more about, an instrument they’d like to play, 3 things they enjoy learning about, 3 things they enjoy doing, something they’d like to make, something they will always remember, and 3 skills they’d like to practice. Students can refer this list when they are trying to come up with ideas for stories and projects. (Adapted from The Mind That’s Mine, 1997)
- Use students’ favorite books to inspire them to come up with ideas. For example, have students choose a favorite book and discuss where the think the author got their ideas for the story. Students can also list examples of their favorite story beginnings. The class can discuss different ways that authors try to get us interested in reading the rest of the book even in the first sentence or paragraph. For example: “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” (The Sound and the Fury), “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” (Jane Eyre), “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984), or “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.” (The Cat in the Hat). (Adapted from Fiderer, 1997).
- Have student brainstorm by drawing pictures, sharing ideas with a partner, or dictating their ideas into a tape recorder.