You may think of writing as a hands-off subject: I shouldn’t have to model the brainstorming process. I just need to give Leo a piece of paper and a writing prompt and let him at it, right?
Well, not always.
The truth is, writing is a subject parents must actively teach in order for most children to learn and improve. A schoolteacher stands at the chalkboard, demonstrates writing methods, and explains new concepts. As homeschoolers, we may not actually stand in front of the “class” to teach a lesson, but our kids still need us to “show them how” at each point along the way.
Why Model the Brainstorming Process?
When you teach a child to make his bed or do his own laundry, first you show him. Then you do it together. You’d never expect him to complete the task on his own until you first know he can do it with help.
Working together like this during writing also trains children in good brainstorming habits. If you just hand them the worksheet and skip the part where you model various techniques on a larger writing surface, you’re missing a golden opportunity to teach them how to think before they write.
Eventually, you can let the reins out a bit as they demonstrate their ability to follow instructions and brainstorm properly. But for now, make sure you’re working together—especially if your child doesn’t think brainstorming is important.
What’s the Purpose of Brainstorming?
Most children don’t have experience with brainstorming. Unless you’ve trained them in the art of story planning, they’re more likely to do one of two things when it’s time to write:
- Freeze at the sight of the blank page and barely scrawl out a couple of weak sentences. The end result is little more than a mess of smudges and teardrops.
- Try to move a massive swirl of ideas from head to paper but wind up losing their focus. They’re left with a rambling, disjointed story that has too many characters, irrelevant bits of storyline, and lots of rabbit trails.
The goal of a brainstorming worksheet is simply to help jumpstart the writing. Graphic organizers aren’t meant for writing full sentences, but for writing lists of words and short phrases. As you discuss story ideas together and jot details on your larger example, children can copy the ones they like onto their own worksheet.
Later, when they refer to the worksheet during writing time, the list of concrete words and other details will jog their memory and keep their writing from taking tangents. Brainstorming keeps your kids on track.
How Do You Brainstorm Together?
Here’s one way to model the brainstorming process during your homeschool writing lesson.
Plan the Beginning
TIP Your child will have an easier time concentrating on ideas if you do the writing.
Draw a large 9-grid on a whiteboard or other writing surface.
Discuss ideas for the beginning of the story. On your large example, write down three details that could happen, one in each box.
- What could happen first to introduce the story;
- What happens second; and
- What happens next.
Next, on his own worksheet, have your child draw a quick stick-figure sketch in each box to represents each of these details. He does not need to add words at this time, but if he does, he should just copy the simple details (again, not complete sentences) you’ve written on your chart.
If your child prefers not to draw pictures, that’s okay; he can write words. Just encourage him to write LISTS of words rather than complete sentences. (Brevity is key during brainstorming.) Then, he can flesh out his ideas when it’s time to write his story.
And if he struggles with physical handwriting, don’t hesitate to relax expectations even further by helping him write the words. This keeps the enjoyment high and the stress level low!
Plan the Middle
Do the same for the middle of the story, jotting down very simple words/phrases on your large writing surface that could happen first, second and third in the middle of the story.
Plan the Ending
For the ending, jot down what could happen first, next, and last to bring the story to a satisfying end.
When you model the brainstorming process, you’re demonstrating and teaching good writing habits. And as you already know, children learn so much more when you show instead of just tell.
WriteShop Junior is a partnership between parent and student—because that’s how writing is best taught! You’ll love all the hands-on activities and tools, including a brainstorming worksheet and detailed instructions for each and every writing lesson. And you’ll learn how to model the brainstorming process with simple dialogues and writing examples.