“Writer’s Block” isn’t a term reserved for professional writers. Starting at a blank piece of paper (or computer screen) is daunting for many, especially young writers who may lack confidence in their writing skills. For some, just settling on topic to write about is an obstacle, for others, retrieving relevant details is harder.
Starting with pre-writing activities will provide your students an opportunity to experiment with writing topics and details, within a flexible framework. An important part of generating ideas is not evaluating the ideas as good or bad. As we know, bad ideas can lead to really good ideas, and we want our students to feel good about contributing ideas and allowing them to grow.
Mapping is a graphic organizer used to brainstorm ideas before writing or researching. They facilitate idea development and help students to organize and prioritize details. Here is a sample brainstorm map: http://yourway.net/printables/mind-map-template.pdf
Here’s some suggestions from Big Universe to help your students figure out where to start (topic) and brainstorm details that will become the backbone of their own story.
Creating Your Brainstorming Map
You can begin this as a whole class discussion, using a board or overhead device to illustrate the technique and then ask them to choose a new topic to brainstorm about individually. Here are a few sample topics to get you started:
- Whole Class Discussion: Animals
- Begin with a type of animal in the center of your brainstorming map. Let’s use bears as an example.
- Next, ask your students think about the animal and share details that they may know about bears. Write down suggestions and if they need help, ask them to create some 5 W and H questions:
What does it eat? Where does it live? What color is it? Has the student seen the animal at home or in a zoo?
- As your students fill in the map with everything that comes to mind regarding the animal, remember, this is not a time to evaluate (“that’s a great detail!”) or reject ideas (“we wrote something similar already”). Accept all ideas without judgment because your students will get the opportunity to choose the most relevant and interesting details for themselves.
- After brainstorming is completed, ask your students to group "like" items (and you can use different colored pen/chalk to do this for them).
- Individual Mapping Exercise: Weather
- You can hand out pre-printed, but blank, maps and ask students to work individually. Ask them to begin with one aspect of weather and put that inside the center of the map. Students may choose a weather event, like a tornado or hurricane, or even something as simple as a sunny day. Ask students to share their topics to serve as an example for their classmates.
- Then ask your students expand on their topic. Have they lived in an area with tornadoes or that has had a hurricane? Is there a particular sunny day they’d like to write about? Students should list details on their map as they come to mind.
After your students create their brainstorming map, it’s time to put it into action. Using their map, have the students come up with their story idea that can be supported with the details in the map. Will it be a fictional story about a bear living in a park? Will it be a real-life story about when a tornado hit the area?
A Visual Pre-Writing Activity: Storyboarding
Pre-writing is the next step in the plan to create a story. For young students, it’s important to focus on the three main points of the story: the beginning, middle, and end. Have your students divide a piece of paper into three sections and label them beginning, middle, and end.
Students can then use the sections to draw pictures of their story. A simple story for grades K-2 might have three pictures, while older students can create a story board with more elaborate sections.
Using this type of graphic organizer to draw out the visual story helps students prepare an outline of what is to come. It also can serve as a basis for book illustrations for students entering the Big Universe Writing contest. By creating a picture in their mind and translating it to paper, helps students to visual the story sequence—the logical order that things are going to happen within a story.
You’re Ready to Begin!
After your students have created their story map and pre-writing graphic organizer, they are ready to begin writing their story. With the writing tools available from Big Universe, their books or writing assignments will be ready in no time.