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Teaching the Process of Narrowing Down Topics for Writing

written by: Marlene Gundlach • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 4/5/2012

This activity will help guide students through the process of choosing a narrow topic for writing. The class will see how a narrow topic makes for a better story.

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    Narrowing Down the Field

    Show students four different sizes of T-shirts and demonstrate how each will help narrow down a topic for writing. The template for the T-shirts can be downloaded from the media gallery.

    Begin with a very broad topic like sports. Demonstrate that with a topic like sports, you could write about football, basketball, your time playing Little League baseball, and the time you took tennis lessons. Invite students to share how that paper would be too long, and could not possible contain enough detail. This is the largest size T-shirt.

    Showing the next size shirt, explain that you could write about basketball. This topic is still large, as you could write about your favorite NBA team, a favorite college team, playing basketball in the backyard, and playing on the 4th grade team.

    Still too broad. Next, I am going to choose my favorite NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. So, this time I can write about the team, their uniforms, my favorite player, or the time I attend a game. Let students share how this is still a lot to cover, and would require a lot of writing to get the necessary detail.

    Finally, showing them the smallest shirt, you can share that you will write about when you attended a Cavs game. You can include details about where you sat, what the score was, and how the basketball landed in your lap when it was going out of bounds.

    By talking students through this process, you are showing them how they can take a broad topic and slowly narrow it down to a more usable topic.

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    Group Activity

    Break students into groups and give each a set of four note cards that represent a broad topic, narrowed down to a good topic for writing. Examples of sets of topics include:

    • Country, State, City, Neighborhood
    • Pets, Dogs, Puppy, Teach your puppy to sit
    • School, Third Grade, Classroom, Desk
    • Weather, Hurricanes, Strong winds, When winds tipped over our swing set

    The group should work together to put them in order. Then have each group share their topics with the class. Discuss any errors and where changes can be made.

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      Individual Activity

      Give each student a set of T-shirts to cut out. They will do their own set of topics on the shirts and narrow down their broad idea until they find one that is good for writing. If there is time, students can decorate the shirts. Students can then take the topic on their small shirt and write a rough draft of their story. The shirt can be glued to the top of their rough draft. Or, you can display all of their topics on clothes line in the hallway or on a bulletin board to share their prewriting strategy.