A Quick and Easy Pre-Writing Strategy
Creating lists is a quick and easy way to fire the cylinders in our students' brains. Because many kids have created lists before, showing them a pre-writing strategy called the Topic T-Chart makes perfect sense.
I explain to my students that we're going to create a list of topic ideas to write about. For narrative writing, I like to use contrasting topic ideas that all of us have experience with: Fun/Have-To, Good Times/Bad Times, Typical/Unusual, or Pride/Regret.
Then, I model how to create a T-Chart like the example in the picture here. I list as many topic ideas I can think of on each side of the list. When I finish, I share these ideas out loud with the class.
After I share, I give my students 3-4 minutes to list as many topics as they can think of. When time's up, I have a few kids share both sides of their lists.
Topic Selection: What makes a good topic?
In my classroom, we use this criteria for choosing a good topic.
1. Strong feelings. As a writer, you must have strong feelings about it. It's so funny it makes you laugh out loud, or it's so miserable, you want to cry, or anything in between. The key is that you have a strong emotional reaction to it. This will help your readers connect to your writing.
2. Lots of detail. A good topic is one that can be told in detail. Details are like the ingredients in a delicious burrito. I can have a burrito with beans and cheese. Or, I can have a burrito with beans, carne asada, cheese, salsa, guacamole, lettuce, onions, and peppers.
3. Interesting to others. A long road trip on the way home from the mountains might not be very interesting. But while on the way home, a huge piece of machinery falls off of a trailer 5 cars in front of you tearing chunks out of the asphalt closing down the highway for hours is interesting! Keeping the reader in mind is key to choosing an interesting topic worth reading.
I wrap-up this mini-lesson by modeling selecting a topic that meets all three criteria and place a star next to it. After I've made my choice, I give my students 1-2 minutes to choose a topic, and we share as a class.
To remind students of the importance of our topic selection criteria, I generate a whole-class list of topics for us to assess. We star the ones that best meeet our guidelines, but sometimes a few students have to go back and choose a different topic. However, at this stage in the writing process, not much time is lost.
Creating Topic T-Charts are a fun way to help kids think fast. With established guidelines, they guide students into topics they can successfully write about. But it's the element of choice that seems to motivate all of us into selecting a topic worth reading.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.