Teaching Students to Brainstorm:
For students taking a standardized test with a writing portion, they will do well to brainstorm before diving into writing the paper. I know that students will dislike this idea and feel crunched for time. Sharing the simple idea of brainstorming to students may also put them at ease.
Any standardized test with a writing portion will have a broad topic, one that most high school students have experience with and one with many potential answers, such as –
Should schools mandate volunteer work hours for graduation?
The two simplest answers are “yes” and “no.” Make a column for each and show students your brainstorming process.
- helps communities
- teaches important life lessons
- provides real-life experiences
- has less meaning if forced
- students may not have time and may have to cut work hours (some students have their own families)
- can a student meet all other requirements and still not graduate?
- who supervises the volunteer work? will students cheat?
Students find the idea funny, but I encourage them to choose whatever option has the most support. (They normally joke that I’m encouraging them to lie). The test readers are less interested in the actual answer compared to the support and writing style.
- Be sure the ideas are different enough for a paragraph alone. Otherwise, combine them. (I show students my thinking behind this and use this as an opportunity for organizing ideas).
- Decide on the strongest support – it should be last in the body paragraphs.
Help students see that these brainstormed points can be topic sentences for each body paragraph. The side not used (in the example, the “yes” side) should be the analytical and oppositional paragraph. Those paragraphs can begin with critics may say… others believe… however…
Working on introductions and conclusions has endless possibilities and each teacher has his or her own style. I encourage students to start with an anecdote or quote, but acknowledge they may be limited without research. Since they are also short on time, I stress that they should consider the introduction and conclusion together – they do not want them to be similar, but rather continue the theme and send the same message.
Any standardized test with a writing portion can be daunting. Giving students the simple tool of brainstorming will empower them and organize their writing. In written feedback from teaching test prep, students consistently tell me when they see me write, change my ideas, and fix my mistakes they are more confident. Brainstorming before starting the writing portion will save students time.
Lauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her Teachers Pay Teachers Store for a variety of products.