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 writers/producers we expect them to choose some of their own topics for writing. A whole world of possibilities can be explored by sharing some of the ways other writers find ideas.
Books and Other Texts
Books can trigger new ideas, characters, etc. Sharing books and texts (poems, short stories, articles) with students, and making sure they have a variety of texts they can read independently or in book club groups, are some of the best ways to help students find their own ideas for writing. Let students know that it is okay to take ideas and/or techniques they discover and try them out in their own writing.
Encourage students to keep a writer's notebook. Professional writers often keep notebooks 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, make lists, and use their notebooks for quickwrites and notes on reading. Students can add anything that inspires them. The notebook has the potential to unleash creativity and promote many ideas for writing.
Use the shared events of students' lives to 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.
Experiences of Others
Encourage students to observe life aroud them. Students can learn to listen to conversations of other and make notes on interesting expressions, turns of phrase, even accents and tone. This is a good technique for inspiring writing, but for creating authentic dialogue as well. An extract from an overheard conversation on public transportation can become a short story.
A quickwrite is an opportunity for students to write freely for a brief period in each class. During quickwrites students focus on getting ideas down on paper, not worrying about form. The idea is to and write without stopping or censoring oneself. Quickwrites can be about a line of poetry or an excerpt from a short story.
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. Brainstorming can be done by collecting ideas on a big sheet of paper or using a mind-map or other graphic organizer.
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 from childhood, a sporting activity, or a photo of friends. 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.
Learn more about the Reader/Writer's Notebook.
The National Writing Project offers ideas and writing prompts.
Leo Babauta offers 31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing .