I don’t know what to write about. Anonymous Student
How many times have we heard this comment? Finding ideas for writing is hard work for all writers. When we place students in the role of real writers we expect them to choose many of their own topics for writing. We can open up a whole world of possibilities by sharing with our students some of ways other writers find ideas. Writers will benefit from a variety of techniques.
Books can trigger new ideas, characters, etc. Reading aloud to students and making sure they have a variety of books they can read on their own is one of the best ways to help students find their own ideas for writing. Let students know that it is okay to take ideas they discover in other writers, as well as techniques that they love, and use them in their own writing as long as they are not copying.
Encourage students to keep a writer’s notebook. The idea comes from the lives of professional writers who often keep notepads close at hand to record ideas, words, thoughts, even dreams... as they come to mind. It is an essential tool for the writer.
Some writers add newspaper clippings, sketches, or quotes to their journals. Others include photographs or make lists. Students can add anything that inspires them. The notebook has the potential to unleash creativity and promote many ideas for writing.
More ideas for using writer’s notebooks with students can be found here.
Use the shared events of students’ lives to inspire writing. When a student comes into class with a handful of worms, a skinned knee, or exciting news, these events can inspire writing. Students need to know that the little and big events of their lives are worth writing about- and that they are a rich source for new ideas. Some of these ideas will become finished pieces.
The death of a friend became a serious inspiration for one grade 6 student’s writing. The piece was included as the dedication in a student magazine.
When a cycle one student learned to ride his bike for the very first time, this became something to celebrate and write about.
A trip to Walmart with her mother became the seed for a piece by a cycle two student. One that gave her teacher an opportunity, in a quick writing conference, to help her make her writing stronger by adding details.
A quickwrite is an opportunity for students to write freely for a brief period in each class, usually 10 minutes or thereabouts. Quickwriting has 3 elements, concentrating on getting ideas down, not worrying about form and writing without stopping.
The idea is to let the writing flow. Just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Don’t edit, don’t pause, don’t think.
Brainstorming is similar to quickwriting in that the flow of ideas is more important than quality. Within this brainstorm of ideas, there will be some good ideas for writing.
Photographs, Art and Illustrations
Images have the power to unlock students’ imaginations and help them express themselves through written language.
Have students bring in a personal photograph that is significant to them in some way. It might be a family gathering, a photo of a child and her/ his grandparent, a sporting activity, or a day at the beach. The ideas are limitless. The content of the photograph does not really matter as long as it is important to the student. What does matter is that the students are writing about topics they know and care about.
Abish was a grade 4 student who struggled with reading and writing. It was very difficult for him to get any words down on paper.
Debbie Rotkow, makes use of the real-life circumstances of her first grade students to help them compose writing that, in Frank Smith’s words, is "natural and purposeful." You will find many ideas in the article "Two or Three Things I Know for Sure About Helping Students Write the Stories of Their Lives." The Quarterly (25) 4. These ideas are transferable for use with students of all ages.
Picture credit: The Parisians. Photgrapher Alfed Eisenstaedt. Courtesy Google Life Photo Archives