We are going to make a bold statement: BRAINSTORMING is the most important part of the writing process.
We’ve been teaching writing for a long time, and we see a ton of success with our students who know how to brainstorm ideas for opinion writing.
But we’ll be honest, it can be a challenge to help students brainstorm. After all, you can’t see inside anyones head, and the moment you start offering ideas, students will try to grab them or say no to EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
We always love (insert eye roll here) when students respond to our writing idea with “That’s good, I’ll write that. What did you say again?” Arg!
Now, we make it a point to teach students HOW to brainstorm their own writing ideas.
You may ask, “Why is brainstorming important?”
The goal is not only for your students to generate their own ideas, but also learn how to expand on those ideas so they end up with a strong and clear opinion essay topic.
Starting with strong ideas for opinion writing will make the rest of the writing process go much more smoothly for students.
What does brainstorming mean?
When we talk about brainstorming for writing, we think of it as the process of generating and thinking up topics and ideas to write about.
This sounds like a simple concept, but a lot of students struggle! This often happens with writing because the initial question is too open ended- like “What are your opinions about something important to you?” There are several times when our students can’t come up with anything or have so many ideas, they can’t narrow it down to just one.
To overcome the “I don’t know what to write about” hurdle with opinion essays, we start with this: Have students jot down a list of things they care a lot about or know a lot about.
Kids love talking about their interests, but to ensure this first step is a breeze,we give them general topics to start with. This makes the open ended starting question a lot less overwhelming. Topics could be interesting places, sports teams, foods, etc. This gives all of our students a starting point.
We like to call this process a brain dump. Students find this term funny and when you add in a gesture of dumping things from our brain, it can lighten up the writing period.
We have found that asking kids to brain dump about specific, familiar topics takes away some of the pressure of those open-ended prompts.
How to model brainstorming for an essay?
Before we throw our students into brainstorming on their own, we need to do some modeling. You might think, “How am I supposed to model brainstorming? It’s in my head!”
Trying to map out the crazy chaos of brainstorming is like herding cats – near impossible! But fear not, for we have a solution.
It’s time to let those all of those wacky, fun, interesting ideas loose from the confines of your cranium and onto the page. Yes, you will endure your very own brain dump, for your whole class to enjoy! 🧠⃕ 🗒️
To model brainstorming, you want to go through the same exact process that your students would…but out loud…while the class is all together…listening intently of course.
So before you begin, you need to decide what your expectations will be from your students
- How do you want them to show their brainstorming? On a graphic organizer or plain sheet of paper?
- What are you expecting them to write – five ideas? two ideas? How many topics will they be given?
After you have decided these things, you need to model the expected behavior using the tools (like a graphic organizer) that they will be using.
Then, you will simply go through the process. Everything going on in your head – share it out loud! Narrate the process for them.
You can project anything you write, or write it on the board. You want students to be able to see your brainstorming notes and process. You can get students involved during the modeling, but the ultimate goal is that they see brainstorming in action.
If you aren’t sure how you want brainstorming to look yet, here is the model we use with students.
The Brainstorming Process
Step 1: Listing Topic Ideas
The first step for brainstorming is listing ideas about a set of given topics or question prompts, as we discussed earlier.
Students will use these to begin their brain dump. You can set a timer, and give students quiet time to write down a list of ideas that connect to the topics or prompts. To get their brains flowing, try these question prompts:
- What is something you really enjoy?
- What do you like to do outside of school?
- What is something you want to change about school?
- What is something you enjoy/don’t enjoy learning about?
- What is your favorite animal?
Of course, some students can generate ideas for opinion writing independently, but we know that’s not an accessible option for every student. For those students, we recommend breaking down the topics or questions even more.
For example, with the question prompt,“What do you enjoy learning about” – you may say, “Think about things you enjoy learning in math, social studies, or art.”
Step 2: Expanding Topic Ideas
Once your timer is up, and your students have a few topics to choose from, you want to move onto expanding. This is where students take a larger idea from their list, and expand it with more information to make it defined.
To do this step, students will begin to think about what they think, feel, or believe about some of their topic ideas.
For example, they may have written “video games” as a topic for what they like to do outside of school. To expand, they could write “video games are fun” or “I can talk with my friends on video games.”
To help your students expand their topics, try some of the following prompts:
- What are the pros and cons of your topic?
- What do you like about your topic?
- How does the topic make you feel?
- Describe your topic. What do you know about it?
Step 3: Pick and Write an Opinion
We have arrived at the last step of brainstorming! Students will pick the expanded topic ideas they are most interested in or feel they could write the most about. Then they take that and form it into a complete opinion sentence.
For example, the student writing about video games might write, “Everyone should play video games because they help you be social.”
It’s likely that students will need some help going from their expanded idea to a complete sentence, so you can provide some examples or sentence stems to help out. Here are a few sentence stems:
- Everyone should/should not do _____.
- _____ is the best
- ______ is boring / fun / exciting
If you’re ready to turn your students into confident opinion writers but feeling overwhelmed by all the planning and preparation, fear not!
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- Lesson plans with scripts
- Graphic organizers
- Anchor charts
- Mentor texts
- Comprehension activities
- And more…
You’ll have all the tools you need to guide your fourth-grade students through the writing process from brainstorming through publishing!
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With differentiated activities and materials, you can be confident that you’re meeting the needs of all your learners. And with a grading rubric and checklists, assessing your students’ writing has never been easier.
After using this resource, your students will become experts at writing cohesive and persuasive opinion essays.
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Need some time to brainstorm whether or not this unit is for you? No problem- check out this Opinion Writing Unit for 4th grade freebie for an inside look at parts of this unit.