Helping The Inexperienced Writer Harvest Ideas

The most challenging part of writing for developing writers is often finding something to write about. This occurs because they are not practiced at harvesting ideas. They under value their thoughts, experiences and observations as potential writing fodder. As teachers we can nudge their thinking in ways that assist the inexperienced writer to place greater value on such experiences as fodder for writing.

It is therefore critical to show them how to think and act like writers. In this way they will develop behaviours that will assist them to be more watchful and aware of their world. If this happens they will be more likely to adopt writing ideas springing from their interactions.

Connect With The World - Look, Listen, Learn!

Essentially, writers need to keep their eyes open. They need to look, listen and be ready to learn. Sometimes a subject finds you. You may just happen to be walking down the street when something quite extraordinary takes place. – like the time I was travelling on the New York subway and a guy entered the carriage wearing full medieval knight’s regalia. My mind immediately began to speculate –Where did he come from? Why was he dressed in this fashion, Where was he going? If we model these types of wonderings and observations and demonstrate how such experiences feed our writing ideas, our students are receiving powerful support.

Constructing Life Maps

Another strategy to encourage thinking and the generation of ideas is to ask students to draw a life map. The map can be constructed across a double page of their writer’s notebook. Starting with the day of their birth, students document significant events for each year of their life. The map then becomes a form of topic list. Another variation is to develop a more traditional time line.

Making Lists

Making lists is a great way to generate ideas for writing. Here are a few ideas to suggest to your students. It is important to encourage your student writers to generate lists based on their own thinking.

Things that are prickly

Things that are slow
Things that upset you
Things to do on a rainy day
Things that make me smile
Things I want for my birthday that cost nothing
Things the world doesn’t need
Things I couldn’t live without
Prized possessions
My Important places
Favourite –books, movies, food etc

Read Regularly

The consistent message your students need to hear is that ’ it is difficult to be the best writer you can be unless you read a lot.’ They need to read across a range of genres- books, magazines, newspapers fiction/non fiction, poetry/plays. Wide reading builds both word knowledge and world knowledge. The best books to read are those that make you think.

Talk to people

Conversations are so important, not just in the classroom, but everywhere you go. Show your students how you engage in talk and how it helps you clarify, understand and deepen your knowledge about so many things. Listening is also a vital skill to develop. Effective writers are always eavesdropping for snatches of rich conversation to use as dialogue.

Do Some Gathering

Artefacts, treasures, trinkets, mementos, ephemera all add to the writer’s working file of ideas. Collect tickets, photographs, facts, snatches of conversation, quotes. Encouraging students to do some hunting and gathering is a great way to stimulate writing ideas,for as we know, ideas exist in things. Such objects have memories attached to them.

Write Regularly

You’ll never learn to ride a bicycle looking at pictures of one in a book. You need to climb on the bike and start practicing. It’s the same with writing! Students need to practice writing regularly. Writing at school and beyond is important to writing development. Exploring thoughts and feelings will usually provide a host of writing ideas. As the volume of writing increases, so does confidence and commitment.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to just sit still and take in your immediate surrounds. Ideas exist right there, where you are sitting. What can you see or feel that connects you to an idea, a memory, a thought? A chair, a window, a tree might be enough to get the words flowing across the page. Show your students how you do this and then get them to try it.


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