Generating Writing Ideas with Lists and Conversations


Every writer begins a new writing piece differently. Some dive in and just start writing, others need to talk with someone first, others start with an enticing title and still others need to do some pre-writing.

No matter which method students preferred, they benefit from experiencing a variety of strategies for generating ideas. There are more ways to generate ideas for writing than bubbles and graphic organizers. This article discusses two methods for idea generation that often get overlooked: listing and conversations.


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Creating a simple list and then generating another list based on ideas created in the first list can cause a domino effect of ideas to occur! But, the real magic of list creation is being able to answer this common question: "I'm done writing, now what?" resoundingly with, "Pick another topic from your list and write a draft about that!"

First, I model the creation of my own lists under a document camera. I want students to get excited about the lists they are creating so my lists include favorite things, favorite places, favorite people, favorite music, favorite food, exciting times, times I've been hurt, happy times, you get the point! 

Then, I take a topic from these lists and create a new list. For example if I listed my daughter as my favorite person I would write her name and then start listing memories with her.

Once you've modeled it students will be eager to talk about their own favorites, and you should let them as I discuss next!



One of the best ways to support idea stimulation is to let students talk. Before my students begin conversations I make sure they have their writing notebook and pencil/pen in hand. This way if they have an idea they'd like to try they can quickly add it to their list.

First, I model how the conversation will go in front of students. I'll have a student volunteer share an exciting story or read from one of their favorite lists and then I'll state a connection I have and write it in my own notebook. Often students are surprised how loose the connection can be. For example a student who tells me they like Nirvana might spark a story in me about visiting Pike's Place Market in Seattle one time. Or if a student writes about how they enjoy tennis, that might make you remember you could write about golfing.

Teachers can't go wrong with letting students discuss ideas before sending them off to write or modeling how conversations can spur loosely connected ideas. 

To Conclude...

I hope this article has inspired you to try other strategies when it comes to idea generation in your classroom. Each student is unique and it is important to allow what works for them to shine through. Sometimes students aren't sure what works for them...thankfully your repertoire of idea generation strategies has just increased.

About the Author

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Amanda Werner is a full time 8th grade English teacher in the Bay Area. She has been teaching for ten years and still feels like a novice. Every year is a unique and exciting challenge to inspire a new group of students in becoming avid readers and writers. Amanda reads educational literature voraciously and writes about the teaching of writing on her website

Amanda received her B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Humanities at Western Washington University. She has both an elementary and secondary teaching license and a mathematics credential. In her free time, Amanda loves being outdoors with her humorous husband and sweet and spunky three year old daughter.

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