How to brainstorm with reluctant children

Encouraging your reluctant child to brainstorm with graphic organizers, lists, and mindmaps

DOES YOUR CHILD balk when it’s time to plan out a story or report? Does she tell you she’d rather just start writing? If so, read on! I’m sure you’ll relate to this question from the WriteShop mailbag.

. . . . . 

Q: When we brainstorm, my daughter wants to skip the planning part and jump right into the actual writing.

It’s frustrating for her to just put some of her thoughts down and not expand on them right then and there. She has a hard time stopping her flow of ideas. Any tips?

A:  As much as she wishes she could do so, it’s often counterproductive for a child to pour out her whole story in free-spirit style.

Without a plan, she has no sense of direction, and the story can quickly lose focus and disintegrate into a jumble of words. Instead, help her view brainstorming as a time of preparation—a part of the pre-writing process.

Teach Brainstorming Skills

If you always let your student write as the ideas come—and she never learns to slow down and plan her course—she’ll struggle with:

  • Rambling stories and disjointed essays 
  • Essays and reports that require summarizing and rephrasing of research so as not to plagiarize.
  • Long reports that, by their nature, should be spread out over many days or weeks.

Brainstorming with lists, mindmaps, graphic organizers

Brainstorming needs to be taught—even when your child digs in her heels.

Keep working with her to develop this skill of planning out story details. When she begins her actual story, she can flesh out her brainstorming into meatier sentences.

As assignments grow in length, it will become even more necessary for your student to plan first and write later.

Use Different Brainstorming Methods

There are many ways to brainstorm. When you’re not sure how to brainstorm with children, it’s good to experiment and try different ideas, such as the four listed here.

Brainstorm for Writing Topics 

Have your kids ever approached the blank page with fear and trembling? Often, it’s simply because they have no idea what to write about! This little activity will help them think of topics that interest them.

  • Set a timer for 3 minutes and have each child make a list of every idea they can think of—with no erasing or crossing ideas out! If they’re timer-phobic, you can do this without timing the exercise.
  • When finished, encourage them to look over their list and circle three ideas that would be the most fun or appealing to write about.

Make Lists

This is an effective brainstorming method for writing short reports about familiar topics. It’s also a great way to brainstorm about a personal experience.

  • On a large sheet of paper (or on a whiteboard), write the main topic.
  • Ask the kids to think of as many ideas as possible that relate to this topic. List all their ideas, even those that don’t really fit.

Sometimes your child may want to do the writing. But often, a young writer’s thoughts gush out like a firehose, and there’s just no containing them. If you can write as she talks, you can corral those random ideas on paper. Later, she can sort ideas into categories.

Make a Mindmap or Idea Cloud 

Use a mindmap to help organize main points and subpoints.Mindmaps are especially effective with spatial and visual learners.

  • In the center of the whiteboard, draw a  circle and write the topic inside.
  • For the main points, draw several lines that radiate out, adding a circle to the end of each line.
  • Ask who, what, when, where, and why questions to prompt the children. As they give ideas, write main points in the circles.
  • Subpoints can be written on additional lines that connect to their related main points.

Use Graphic Organizers

Graphic OrganizerGraphic organizers such as the one on the left are worksheets that help kids sort ideas and plan story or report details.

Traditional graphic organizers come in grids, charts, or idea clouds. But they can also take on more fanciful shapes, such as hamburgers or robots.

Both elementary and middle/high school levels of WriteShop include an assortment of worksheets. The younger levels include both traditional and whimsical graphic organizers.

Whatever brainstorming methods you choose, encourage your child to develop and practice different techniques. Brainstorming is a lifelong skill!

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Brainstorm photo: Andy Mangold, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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