Brainstorming with 5- to 8-year-olds

Brainstorming with young children is often a shared experience, guided by mom or teacher. It helps kids plan and organize before writing.

Brain freeze, blank paper syndrome, and fear of writing often have their roots in the early elementary grades. Unless a child is taught from a young age that writing is the process—and her story is, in fact, merely the end product of that process—she is well on her way to a lifetime of writing paralysis.

1. Brainstorming unlocks ideas

A key ingredient of the creative writing process, brainstorming is fundamental to preparing a child to write. Brainstorming with young children is usually a shared experience, guided by mom or teacher. Make this a fun, low-key time for chatting about ideas for writing. And to take the pressure off, let the child talk while you jot down her thoughts.

Before beginning a writing project, brainstorm with your child for ideas related to that day’s topic. You and your child should use brainstorming to:

  • Generate possible topic ideas for writing.
  • Determine things to write about her chosen topic.

Whether your child wants to write about a favorite toy, yesterday’s visit to the fire station, or a make-believe flying car, brainstorm with her to help her unlock ideas. Even within her small world, she can talk about what she observes around her, what she knows in her head, or what her budding imagination can dream up. You’ll both appreciate this time of brainstorming and jotting down words and thoughts before actually beginning to write.

2. At the early elementary level, brainstorming:

  • Helps your child focus her attention on the topic.
  • Generates a number of different ideas.
  • Encourages your child to share her ideas and opinions without fear of criticism.
  • Shows your child that she will have more to say during writing time if she has already given her topic some thought.

3. Ways to brainstorm with primary children

List of Ideas. The most basic form of brainstorming is to make a list, writing ideas on a tablet or whiteboard. Keep this list handy throughout the rest of the lesson to help spark ideas during the writing stage and extended activities. Brainstorm to create a list of topic ideas, or brainstorm to make a list of things your child can write about her chosen topic.

Story Web. Draw a simple story web with a circle in the middle and five or six lines extending out from the circle to resemble a spider web. In the center of the circle, write the topic. On each of the lines, list the information that supports the topic. Click here to see an example of a story web variation.

Story Idea CardsStory Idea Card File. This tool helps you and your child brainstorm for topics. Using index cards, glue a small magazine or catalog picture to one side and write the topic on the opposite side. Store cards in a small file box labeled “Story Ideas.” Start by making about 10 cards.Story Idea Cards

During the brainstorming session, take out the index cards. Look at the cards together and read their labels. Ask your student to choose four cards (topics) she might like to write about. If she wants to write about a topic that isn’t in the box, help her make a new index card by gluing a picture on the front and writing the label on the back. Finally, encourage your child to choose one card as the topic for her next story.

Graphic Organizer. Graphic organizers come in many varieties. When your child is writing a story, it will help her to stay on task if you create a simple graphic organizer to list ideas for the introduction, body, and closing of her story. Label the graphic organizer as follows, leaving spaces for writing as you brainstorm together:

  • Title:
  • Beginning:
  • Middle:
  • End:

Ask your child to think of story ideas about her topic. Ask questions to help her come up with a beginning, middle, and end. Talk about possible titles and write these ideas on your graphic organizer.

. . . . .

Sound like fun? If so, you’ll find these and many, many more ideas in WriteShop Primary, our newest series targeting primary-aged children. The first book, WriteShop Primary Book A, is currently available for early learners in K-2nd grades. Visit www.writeshop.com to learn more!

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7 comments ↓

#1 Alison on 11.04.08 at 11:39 am

I love brainstorming! You have a nicely laid out article. Maybe I can use it if I get stuck with no ideas for a blog post!

#2 Kim on 11.04.08 at 6:08 pm

Thanks, Alison! You’re more than welcome to link to the post, should your creative juices dry up for a day. LOL!

#3 HappyCampers on 11.06.08 at 8:24 am

What great ideas! We are on our way to see Sleepy Hollow at a play house today, and I think we’ll use your brainstorming ideas when we get home to extend our experience.

#4 Kim on 11.06.08 at 6:24 pm

Sounds like fun! Let us know which brainstorming tool you used and how it went.

#5 D Orcutt on 12.15.08 at 8:52 pm

Thankfully my younger kids have been able to come up with ideas when we’ve done the brainstorming activities. My older one has always had a harder time. Perhaps if this curriculum had been around when he was younger, it would be a little easier for him now.

#6 Kim on 12.16.08 at 1:04 am

You make a good point! When you start young, and your children learn that brainstorming is a natural part of writing, you’re less likely to see them dig in their heels when they get older. Glad you’ve been able to help your little ones discover this!

#7 A Writer's Plan - Home Literacy Blueprint on 12.06.13 at 11:29 am

[…] out these great tips on How to Brilliantly Brainstorm and Brainstorming With 5-8 Year Olds. (Most work with older kids […]

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