How to model the brainstorming process

Working together during writing trains children in good brainstorming habits and teaches them to THINK before they WRITE.

You may think of writing as a hands-off subject: just give a child a piece of paper and a writing prompt and let him at it, right?

Well, not always.

The truth is, writing is a subject that must be taught 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 model for them at each point along the way—including the brainstorming process.

Why Model Brainstorming?

When you teach a child to make his bed or do his own laundry, first you show him, and then you do it together, before you expect him to complete the task on his own.

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 are simply not used to brainstorming. Unless they’ve been trained in the art of story planning, they’re much 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, your student can copy the ones he likes onto his own worksheet.

Later, when he refers to the worksheet during writing time, the list of concrete words and other details will jog his memory and keep his writing from taking tangents. Brainstorming keeps him on track.

How Do You Brainstorm Together?

Here is one way to walk your child through the brainstorming process. 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. Talk about:

  • What could happen first to introduce the story;
  • What happens second; and
  • What happens next.

Have your child draw a quick stick-figure sketch in each box on his own worksheet that 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.

Do the same for the middle of the story, jotting down very simple words/phrases that could happen first, second and third in the middle of the story.

For the ending, jot down what could happen first, next, and last to bring the story to a satisfying end.

If your student 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.

Modeling is an important part of writing because you demonstrate and teach good writing habits to your children. They learn so much more when you show instead of just tell.

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WriteShop Junior is a partnership between parent/teacher and student, because that’s how writing is best taught. Book D is the first in the series. You’ll love all the hands-on activities and tools, including a brainstorming worksheet and detailed instructions for each and every writing lesson.

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