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How to Help Your Child Brainstorm

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Many children don’t know where to start when it comes to writing. Some complain that they have nothing to write about. Others jump right in without preparation resulting in a series of disconnected ideas. If either description sounds like your child, they may be missing a critical step in the writing process: Prewriting.

Prewriting is one of the best writing habits you can reinforce at home. It gives your child the opportunity to generate and organize their ideas while clarifying their thinking. If done right, prewriting turns a writing assignment into small, manageable parts instead of one monumentally daunting task.

Before an important writing assignment, try these prewriting activities.

Select a Topic for Non-fiction Writing

If your child is writing an informative or explanatory text, the first step is to pick a topic. If he has a choice, a personal and positive connection or interest in the subject will make the assignment both meaningful and enjoyable.

For example, is he writing a ….

  • State report? He might select the state where you live or one he will visit soon.
  • Descriptive essay about an animal? Have him choose his pet or the type of animal who stars in a favorite movie, such as a clownfish if he enjoyed Finding Nemo.
  • Biography about a famous person?  Look for similarities, such as the inventor of a device he uses each day (a light bulb), a young inventor (Chester Greenwood), or someone who did/does something he enjoys (the chef Julia Child).
  • An essay explaining how to do something? He should pick the rules of a favorite board game or how to perform a difficult move on a skateboard.

Select a Topic for Fictional Writing

For a fictional story or personal narrative, start by helping your child come up with a one sentence overarching storyline using this sentence frame:  I will write a story about ________________.

Then, help her think about and identify the real-world topic(s) involved. For example, is she writing a….

  • A fantasy story about a scientist who creates a monster octopus that attacks a city? Then, topics include: scientists, laboratory, octopuses, cities
  • An adventure story about a firewoman who safely evacuates a school? Topics: firefighters, firefighting equipment, schools
  • A personal narrative about her proudest moment: when she scored a goal to help her team win a soccer tournament? Topics: soccer, soccer tournaments

Narrow the Topic

If your child is having trouble getting started, they may need to narrow their topic or create subtopics. For a state report, what are the big categories he will write about – geography, history, attractions? If she is writing about scoring the winning goal in a soccer game, can she narrow her brainstorming and research to the positions of forward and goalie? Identifying the exact information needed will save time and frustration.

Conduct Research

Lastly, use resources. Research is always a solution to writer’s block. After listing the concrete/proper nouns associated with a topic, identify books, magazines, or websites your child can use to find more information. Even if it is a familiar topic, research provides additional ideas and helps your child build a word bank of specific, concrete vocabulary words.

Internet Domains

If your child is doing online research, teach them to evaluate information based on the Internet URL identity, or last three letters of a website’s domain name.

.com – Commercial. It exists to promote a product and make a profit. While the information might not be false, it may be biased to show a product or service in a positive light.  

.edu – Educational Institution.  This domain name represents schools (ranging from kindergarten to higher education) or educational research centers or departments. The information is likely to be carefully checked and credible, but pages created by students may not be edited or monitored.

.gov – Government. Sites with this domain are sponsored by the federal government. All branches of the United States federal government use this domain. The information is considered to be from a reliable source.

.org – Organization. Traditionally, non-profit organizations use this domain suffix. Generally, the information is credible and unbiased, but there are examples of organizations that reflect strong biases.

.net – Network. This domain suffix acts as a catch-all for sites that don't fit into any of the preceding domain suffixes. Careful scrutiny should be given to information found on these sites.