Brainstorming has several benefits aside from simply coming up with topics for a writing project. Brainstorming encourages your students to:
- Tap into prior knowledge on the topic.
- Facilitate healthy communication.
- Learn to respect each other’s ideas.
- Dive into their own individuality and creativity.
- Expand on main topics and ideas.
Brainstorming is where good writing begins, and it can be introduced as early as kindergarten or first grade. Use the pre-writing worksheets below to introduce this concept to your young students and show them how to organize their ideas in a methodical way.
Using Pre-Writing Worksheets to Introduce Brainstorming and Ideation to Elementary Students
Pre-writing worksheets allow your students to put their ideas on paper in a structured way so that their writing can start to take shape.
Kindergarten and 1st grade brainstorming
Although kindergartners are just learning the basics of reading and writing, it is important that you show them ways to organize their ideas around a main topic. Our kindergarten and first grade brainstorming worksheet is based on classic mind maps that are widely used by everyone from professional writers to CEOs.
This form of idea organization is simple and easy for kindergartners and 1st graders to understand, and they can write as little or as much as they want. Your students can use this worksheet to brainstorm individually or as a group. If they are brainstorming as a group, we suggest giving every student a copy of the worksheet, so they can reference it when they start writing.
2nd and 3rd grade
Second and 3rd graders should be able to structure sentences and understand the key components of a story. At this grade level, it is important to start introducing more creative writing processes, as well as self-ideation and brainstorming. With this worksheet, your students can come up with words or phrases that they can refer back to for future writing projects when they need to come up with more topics to write about.
With the 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 with information relating to the topic they chose (you can use the kindergarten worksheet above for mind mapping or have them create their own).
As they map out and write about each person, place or thing on the worksheet above, they will color in the checkmark next to the person, place or thing they wrote about. This 2nd and 3rd grade brainstorming worksheet is something your students can keep in their language arts folder throughout the school year.
4th and 5th grade
By the time students reach 4th or 5th grade, they have probably already had some exposure to brainstorming and ideation. At this point, they are able to develop their ideas to create more complex pieces of writing that include character development and important plot points that lead to a resolution.
When brainstorming, your students should first think about what the main idea of their story should be. For example, if they are writing a personal narrative, ask them about an important event in their lives. If they are writing something fictional, ask them what their main character (or characters) learn over the course of the story. That can be their main idea.
After your students establish their main idea, use this worksheet to help them brainstorm key parts of their story. This will keep them on track as they create their dynamic pieces of writing.
Fourth and 5th graders may want to rush through this step of the writing process, but encourage your students to take their time and really think about what they want to show and tell the reader in their writing.
Brainstorming Classbook Topics as a Group
When it comes to writing a classbook, you may want to spend some time brainstorming as a class and include some tips for coming up with topics for your classbook 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.
We suggest approaching this group brainstorm with a few strategies that are often used in the business world during creative ideation sessions.
Identify the goal before you begin ideating topics
We all know that class discussions can easily get off track, so it is important to identify what the goal of the exercise is. In this case, the goal is to come up with ideas for a classbook. If you need inspiration to get started, we have plenty of classbook inspiration and topic ideas available to help you get started brainstorming with your class.
Set a time limit
Set a timer for your book topic ideation session. This can be as long as you would like, but we suggest keeping it under 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, 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 only one who gets to talk, and everyone else has to listen.
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 their classbook.
Tips to Help Improve the Brainstorming Process
Tip #1: Make brainstorming more visual
Staring at a writing prompt on a whiteboard or an empty journal page can be frustrating and demoralizing when the ideas just won’t seem to come. That’s why, especially for younger kids, adding a strong visual element can be the key to sparking some inspiration.
Graphic organizers are one common example—but why not take it a step further? Turn story webs into spider webs for a creepy-crawly lesson on your friendly neighborhood arachnids. Get adventurous and transform concept maps into treasure maps.
Add fun graphics and clipart to worksheets to match the theme of your brainstorming topic or ask your students to sketch out a few of their ideas themselves. You’ll be amazed at what a bit of color and pizazz can accomplish.
Tip #2: Don’t forget the other four senses!
Eye-catching visuals are a good first step, but why stop there? Engaging all five senses is much more effective than focusing on just one.
- Tap into sound with some music. Personally, I like finding tunes to match the topic my students are covering. For instance, I once played ambient wave sounds for a topic about the beach to give the room a more tropical feel. You can also choose a specific song to be the brainstorming focus by asking students to generate ideas for extra verses.
- Stimulate their sense of smell with stickers. Bring back an elementary school classic and throw some scratch-and-sniff stickers into the lesson plan. Have students choose one sticker at random to scratch, sniff and use as inspiration for story ideas, or give them out as rewards after the lesson is over. Just be sure to check ahead of time that the stickers won’t aggravate any allergies!
- Experiment with new textures. Take a page out of your show-and-tell handbook and pass around a little something to get the gears turning. Have a topic about toys? Ask them to bring in a few to hold and play with (briefly!) to get them thinking about the weight and feel of the toys they like the best. If you’re writing about animals, try passing around a feather, a shark tooth or a turtle shell.
- Food can be your friend, too. If your topic is something like “Things to Add to the Lunch Menu,” consider planning for the lesson to take place just before or after lunch, when food is at the forefront of your students’ minds. Or, for a winter holiday topic, consider handing out candy canes.
Tip #3: Get a new perspective with a change of scenery
Exploring new places isn’t just fun, it’s scientifically proven to boost creativity. While travel abroad might not be in the cards, you can still reap the benefits of a change in scenery with a quick jaunt to a new local location. Try heading outdoors to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, or carve out some time in your elementary school’s auditorium for a more theatrical setting.
If you need to stay in your usual classroom, you can still simulate the experience of being elsewhere by rearranging the room around you. Try moving desks and switching seating arrangements, or move them all to the side and sit together on the floor.
For a real change in perspective, I like to ask my students to lie down on the floor and take a moment to appreciate how different the room looks from below. One of my favorite brainstorming assignments involved having my students gaze up at the ceiling and pretend they were cloud-watching or stargazing, then asking them to describe as many unique cloud shapes or constellations as they could come up with.
Tip #4: Encourage motivation with a long-term goal
Brainstorming for its own sake can be fun, but it can feel a bit pointless if the ideas generated during a session are never put to good use. To motivate your elementary students to really give it their all, present them with a long-term goal, something concrete they can look forward to as the result of their efforts during the brainstorming stage.
Go beyond the writing assignment for today. Maybe they’re generating ideas for an experiment to carry out and present at the science fair later this year. Maybe they’ll turn their best sketches into illustrations to hang in a classroom art gallery, or maybe they’ll write a story to share with others.
Get Your Classbook Started with Help from Studentreasures!
Does your class have a topic picked out? Great! Now it’s time for you to pick up your free classbook publishing kit from Studentreasures! Publishing a classbook together provides you with a great way to compile all of your students’ work into a high-quality book, and once it has been published, it acts as a keepsake for you, your students, and their parents.
For extra resources, worksheets and lesson plans, refer to our online Teacher’s Lounge, or if you’re looking for teaching strategies, project ideas or just simple teaching tricks and tips, check out our other blog posts.