By Daniella Dautrich
BRAINSTORMING with your 9- to 12-year-olds doesn’t have to be a boring, black-and-white process. After all, brainstorming is about unleashing creativity. When your children were small, you probably encouraged them to share their thoughts openly, without fear of criticism. Brainstorming in the upper elementary years should be no different!
Unlike the editing stage of writing, brainstorming is a creative—not critical—process. When a businessman coined the term “brainstorming” over seventy years ago, he wanted to describe a process of coming up with lots of ideas, no matter how silly or wild they seemed. More ideas are always good, he thought, because ideas spark more ideas!
In the 4th through 7th grades, children become more comfortable with words every day. As they start to understand the building blocks of sentences, paragraphs, and essays, they also take notes and make rough drafts, pausing less often to ask, “How do I spell that?”
If you can instill a similar confidence in their abilities to brainstorm, you will overcome a major stumbling block to writing before it ever becomes a problem.
Children are naturally drawn to color. From math manipulatives to poetry, use of color helps memory and inspires creativity. Today, let’s explore three ways to creatively brainstorm with kids—with loads of color!
Colorful Brainstorming with Flash Cards
Perhaps you’ve instructed your son to write a how-to paragraph, such as “How to Make Pancakes.” The writing process should begin with a brainstorming session so he can build a list of steps. Why not spark creativity by using brightly colored flashcards instead of white paper?
Spread the multicolored cards over the writing workspace. Ask your child to start writing down different steps of the pancake-making process, one step for each card. Encourage him to write down a step as soon as he thinks of it, whether not he happens to write it in order. When most of the cards are filled, he can rearrange them until he has built a high-rise tower of flashcards, from the first floor (“step one”) to the roof (“final step”).
Remember, this step of the writing process is about ideas and, eventually, organization. While your child should write down plenty of words, there’s no pressure to write complete sentences.
Colorful Brainstorming with Dry Erase Markers
When you ask your daughter to write a descriptive paragraph, she needs a flexible yet structured method for writing down her initial thoughts and ideas. That’s why I like brainstorming with mindmaps (or “idea clouds”). Why not let her color-code her ideas with a whiteboard and dry erase markers?
With a black marker, draw a bubble in the center of the white board, and write the main topic inside (such as “My Bedroom”). Then draw several lines, like spokes on a wheel, from the main circle to secondary circles. Let your child help you choose subtopics to write inside each new circle (such as “furniture,” “toys,” and “pictures on the wall”).
Now, set your daughter free to brainstorm with new lines and circles! Let her use her favorite colored markers for different parts of speech, perhaps a red marker for nouns and a blue marker for adjectives This will reinforce lessons on parts of speech, while allowing her to create a colorful map of her thoughts.
Colorful Brainstorming with Highlighters
In upper elementary years, students are often challenged to prepare a written response to a book they’ve read. The assignment may be a specific character study or simply a summary of the book’s narrative. Find an inexpensive paperback copy (perhaps from a used bookstore), and your student can begin the brainstorming process with colorful highlighters.
Decide on different colors for three or four main topics or themes.
- For a summary, topics might be the main character’s “childhood,” “travels,” “family,” and “writing career.”
- For a character study, themes might include “childhood struggles,” “mentors,” and “overcoming faults.”
Before your student writes her first draft, have her go through the book and highlight key phrases with the appropriate color. (For added visual impact, encourage her to use colored sticky notes to mark highlighted pages so she can easily find them later.) Now she can outline her essay with all sorts of informative details from the book, instead of relying on memory.
As your kids get older, they probably won’t need more than a pen and paper to plan writing assignments—a few sheets of lined or blank paper for free-listing, mind-mapping, and re-listing should do the trick! While they’re young and bursting with energy, however, let them express their ideas in color whenever it’s time to brainstorm.
What brainstorming tools or tips have worked with your children?