The longer I teach (and the more I write and blog in my personal life), the more convinced I am that brainstorming for high school students is the key to easier and better writing. Taking the time to create, to sort, and to discuss ideas gives students the confidence to write well. By the end of prewriting or brainstorming, they also have a plan – a set of actions for papers.
All the steps in the writing process are important. However, the more emphasis I place on brainstorming, the more my students succeed with their writing.
Here are ways I’ve made brainstorming for high school students easier.
Provide them with ample choice for brainstorming.
Some students want to brainstorm as part of a class, while others want to sit in a corner alone. Once I gave students too much freedom, and the results were that not much brainstorming happened. Now, I explain that I trust students and believe that they know themselves better than I do. If they want input from numerous peers, we can make that work. If they want to work alone, that will be fine too. Structure, but not a one-sized approach.
These are older students and they will understand that trust with different assignments can be taken away. Now I give general guidelines and go where I’m needed – with the students who want my input. However, all students must produce some form of brainstorming…
Provide a variety of formats.
I personally dislike webs – the center idea with offshoots of ideas. The web doesn’t work for me, and I can’t really tell you why. I create lists. Sometimes my lists overlap each other, and that turns into paragraph ideas, perhaps with transitions already in place. This works for me. A web, an outline, and clusters do not help me with brainstorming.
Students are the same. Some love the web, while others make bulleted lists. Others are methodical and outline a paper. I provide students with plenty of graphic organizers and blank paper. The effort of brainstorming needn’t be produced in the same manner.
Turn brainstorming into a positive.
Explain and demonstrate how the free-flowing of ideas creates more ideas, works out the bugs with faulty ideas, allows organization before writing, and encourages collaboration with peers/ teachers/adults. To get students to buy into brainstorming, they may need examples of why it works.
Brainstorming… accomplishes plenty. Ask students to trust you when you begin brainstorming with them. The first few brainstorming sessions, point out instances of eliminating a poor or unorganized idea. Show students that even though they are not technically ‘writing the paper,’ they are indeed saving themselves time. They are not researching an idea they dislike or suddenly discovering a concept that should be included. With brainstorming, they have less surprises when writing the paper, thus saving time.
You may have to convince students that brainstorming will help their writing in the end. Students can see brainstorming as a waste of time, especially if they want to dive into writing. Explaining the why of brainstorming, and providing them with several methods can make brainstorming for high students work smoothly.