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Getting Middle School Students to Write: Get Brainstorming!

written by: Sarah Malburg • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/20/2012

Getting middle schoolers to write is like pulling teeth. I can’t tell you the excuses I’ve heard, “Nothing interesting happened to me" or “I don’t like writing." Try some new and unique ideas to generate ideas and inspire students.

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    Having a Brainstorm

    For years, teachers told students to “brainstorm ideas." While the idea sounded nice, what did it really mean? Making a list of possible topics, putting a topic in a circle and drawing lines from it with details or deciding what a student wanted to write. No wonder students don’t like to write!

    Brainstorming ideas encourage students to think creatively, and not settle for the same ho-hum topic. Students need guidance during this process, not an assignment to come up with a list of ideas. Finally, teachers must model the process for their students. It’s a great way to build rapport and show the students exactly what you want.

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    Generating Those Topics and Ideas

    • Create a list of emotions with students on the board. Cover all ends of the spectrum such as heroic to unsure and hatred to love. Next, have students select three emotions and write a quick sentence or two about a time they felt that way. Share each idea with a partner to help decide which topic would be best for a memoir.
    • Put topics into a hat such as a time you were proud of yourself, a person that influenced you, a special childhood memory, or a time you had to grow up fast. Draw the topics one at a time from the hat, jotting down ideas for each one. Select three ideas to share with a partner to help decide which topic might make the best memoir.
    • Students bring three items from their childhood with significant meanings, but the items must fit into a small brown paper bag. Set creative limits for assignments. Students write why they selected these items.
    • Free writing or journal writing provides a great continuation of brainstorming. This method works well for teachers who have students maintain journals. Instruct students to select three topics they’d like to write more about and have them expand on their ideas. Just write more! Then, students work with a partner, selecting the topic most suitable for a memoir.
    • Provide students with a graphic organizer to organize their thoughts. Encourage students to draw pictures or symbols to get the juices flowing. Play classical music to encourage creativity.
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    How to Choose!

    Choosing a topic follows the brainstorming process.The key with choosing a topic is ensuring students have enough information and details to write. To help with this decision, students describe their top three choices to a partner with at least five pieces of important information. The partner asks two questions about each topic. If students can’t complete the assignment, it signals the writer the topic is too narrow. Plus, it helps the students start generating details.

    For instructions on how to create an outline, check out this study guide for creating an outline.