Helping Student Writers Discover What's Worth Writing About

Another school year looms in Australian schools and for the young, inexperienced writer, learning to find suitable writing ideas; ideas that allow them to explore matters more deeply becomes an essential skill.

For teachers, it remains important to teach student writers how to firstly, identify potential writing ideas. We must show them where ideas can be found, -which is basically all around them. We must let them in on this little secret. They frequently overlook possibilities purely because they are not practiced observers. Sharing how a more experienced writer determines what they will write about and how they will present their writing ideas, is an essential part of growing writers. It is an important step in developing self directed, confident and independent writers.

So, where might we begin?

A writer’s life experiences are an important starting point. Encourage each and every writer to TELL their own unique stories of their life. These special experiences have so much potential for launching writing in the classroom. Apart from talking about their lives, young writers should be encouraged to share what they discovered from the experience. These vignettes hold much potential for propelling writing forward. They say much about success and failure, life lessons, and the full gamut of human emotions if we firstly invest time in the TELLING. The secret lies in getting our young writers talking and sharing.

Create lists of writing territories. –Territories are the broad range of things we know most about, as well as the influences on our lives. Hobbies and interests are part of our territories. Consider also genres, audiences and subjects that most appeal to each of us when we choose to write.  Within these broad territories, specific topics lie waiting to be uncovered. We must encourage the young writer to explore their specific territories in order to seek out topics and ideas worth writing about. They should only write about those things they care about. They are not writing to please the teacher. They should write to discover, uncover, explore, share and understand themselves and their world. They should write to express feelings, opinions, to describe beauty and ugliness, to explain, inform and to persuade.

Create lists of potential writing ideas. Ask them to try and list up to ten possible writing topics. Then get them to choose one item from the list and make a second list of ten things associated with the topic they have identified. Begin by writing about one of items on the second list. It’s about narrowing down the topic. -Refining the search.

Brainstorming is a vital skill that young writers MUST be shown. Show, Don’t Tell! Let them see how you generate ideas when you engage in some serious brainstorming, then invite your students to follow your lead. If you do this, you are making the learning visible.

Reading is a great way to discover potential writing ideas. What do other writers write about? How do they write about specific topics and themes? What genres do they mostly choose when writing about certain topics? Encourage young writers to explore these questions in order to find what it is they truly wish to say as writers.

Observe. Encourage student writers to more effectively engage with their surroundings. Give them cameras, or provide them with materials and time for sketching. Discuss the finer detail of these images. Ask them to describe what is just beyond the image.  Lock in these observations by encouraging talk and discussion and see where it leads to for the writer. Link this work to the work of photographers and illustrators.

Collect- artefacts and ephemera in notebooks as a stimulus for writing.

Investigate how writers write, why they write and how they use notebooks to stimulate the writing lives they lead. Investigate how other writers choose their topics and how they go about the processes of writing to make their writing inviting for others to read.

All these actions will be even more effective if the most proficient writer in the classroom- You, the writing teacher regularly demonstrate how you do these very same things in order to tease out important ideas for writing.


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