I love brainstorming with elementary students. It’s so much fun coming up with new ideas together, and I’m always amazed at what incredible imaginations they have.
I may be the teacher, but when it’s brainstorming time, I often find that my students are the ones teaching me new ways of thinking about problems and seeing the world around us.
An important part of teaching your kids how to brainstorm is showing them how to stay organized and on-track.
One easy and effective way to teach your young writers about mental discipline is to give them a reminder of what they’re writing about. The following brainstorming worksheets are just the thing to help keep your students’ minds open and on-task.
Brainstorming Worksheet #1: Main Idea Web
When it comes to teaching very young or inexperienced writers how to brainstorm, I’ve always found simplicity to be the key to success.
A straightforward main idea web worksheet is as simple as it gets. Simply have your students write a one-word or single-phrase topic in nice big, bold letters in the “Topic” section. Then ask them to come up with more specific ideas related to that topic and write those ideas in the connected bubbles.
This helps students visualize the concept of narrowing down large concepts and focusing on a single aspect at a time. Plus, because the main topic is right there in the middle of the web, it’s hard to miss—and therefore, easy to keep in mind while they brainstorm!
Brainstorming Worksheet #2: Subject Checklist
For a more in-depth brainstorming session, a subject checklist worksheet is ideal, both because it allows more space for ideas and because it can be used in a number of different ways.
With this worksheet, your students will fill in people, places and things they find interesting. After students choose their topic from the worksheet, have them create a mind map (see worksheet download above) with information relating to the topic they chose. Once they write about the topic on the worksheet, they will color in the checkmark next to the person, place or thing they wrote about.
Other Ways to Use This Worksheet
- Ask your students to fill out the sheet with as many nouns as they can come up with. Then, ask them to choose three nouns—one from each column—to create their own specific topics. For example, they might choose the nouns “Mom,” “school” and “bicycle” and write a personal narrative about a time they and their mother bicycled to school together.
- Have your students come up only with nouns related to a certain topic. You can then have them use the worksheet as a checklist to ensure no two paragraphs cover the exact same subject.
Brainstorming Worksheet #3: Narrative Organizers
Narrative writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, requires a special kind of structure—one even professional authors often need to plan for ahead of actually writing their books.
For your elementary students, a graphic organizer worksheet specifically designed for brainstorming a good narrative is a great way both to introduce and to review the elements of a story.
Isolating individual concepts, such as the main character or setting, help your students organize and keep track of all their great ideas while they brainstorm - including specific plot points like the conflict and solution.
Your students can use this worksheet to brainstorm individually or as a group, if they are brainstorming as a group, giving every student a copy of the worksheet so they can reference it when they start writing.
Tips for Brainstorming as a Group
When it comes to writing projects involving everyone in the class (like collaborating on a class book), you will want to spend some time brainstorming as a group. These tips can be implemented during any brainstorming and ideation sessions you have in class, the important thing is that all students feel that their ideas are heard.
You should first set some ground rules to ensure that your class understands that everyone’s ideas are valuable.
- There are no wrong answers.
- Do not say “no” to any ideas or say something is a “bad idea”.
- This is not the time to say why you do or do not like an idea.
I suggest approaching this group brainstorm with a few strategies that are used in the business world during creative ideation sessions.
Identify the goal before you begin ideating
We all know that class discussions can easily get off track so, it is important to identify what the goal of the exercise is. For example, the goal could be to come up with ideas for a classbook.
Set a time limit
Set a timer for your ideation session. The time limit can be as long as you would like, but I suggest keeping it under 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, the discussion can sometimes become counterproductive and your students’ attention spans may start to dwindle. You can always schedule a second brainstorming session if you need to.
Only one person can talk at a time
We know that having one student talk at a time is usually easier said than done, but you want to make sure all of your students’ ideas are heard.
You can use the classic “talking stick” and have students pass an object to each other when they have an idea. Whoever has the “talking stick” is the one who gets to talk and everyone else listens.
Now, they don’t use talking sticks in the adult business world (although sometimes maybe they should), but for class discussions at the elementary level, they are helpful in making sure that an idea doesn’t get lost because someone else was talking.
Write everything down
As you proceed through the book topic brainstorming process, write down all of the ideas on your whiteboard. After the discussion has ended, wait until the end of the day or the next day and have students vote on which ideas they like best for special group projects!
I think these particular worksheets are best used for larger writing projects like creating a classbook. Publishing a classbook is a fantastic way for your students to practice the brainstorming skills that they have learned as a group and while writing their individual stories.
Whether your elementary students are just learning basic sentence structure or are on their way to mastering the art of writing a good fiction story, brainstorming worksheets and writing projects are an ideal way to help your students find their voices, practice good organization and refine their writing skills.
Image sources: Lead image via Shutterstock; Images 1, 2, 3 via Studentreasures