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Brainstorm Exploration


This activity is used when students need to generate and develop a topic for a writing assignment or project.  It guides them towards exploring several possible topics in order to determine which topic is “thickest” or most substantial and interesting.  This activity works best when there is a fairly open range of possible topics.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Metacognition

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Launching Into New Content

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline


  • Identify the activity students are preparing for, and determine the range of possible topics.

  • Create a model of drawing or sketching ideas about possible topics for a similar project.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher describes the assignment(s) for which students are brainstorming topics. Teacher defines what “brainstorm” means, and discusses the importance of thinking freely in order to generate good ideas.

    This activity can also be used at the beginning of the year to generate a list of possible writing or art subjects.

  2. Students do a “quick write” and make a list of all topics they can think of for the assignment.

    Alternatively, you can use a list that students generated previously

  3. Students identify two or three of their favorite topics from the list.

    Ask students to look for “thick” topics: ones that are substantial and that offer a lot of possibility for questioning and learning.  Model thinking aloud about several topic choices.

  4. Working independently, students sketch and write whatever comes to mind about each of the topics. The format of what they produce is totally open, and they should freely express their ideas, thoughts, and images associated with each topic.

    You can model this process ahead of time, and display a model of your exploration of several topics.  

  5. Students get into pairs and each student shares their ideas for possible topics. In pairs, students discuss which of each student’s topics is “thickest.” Students plan to use that topic for their assignment.

    “Thick” topics are complex and offer a lot of room for learning.  They inspire questioning and curiosity and are related to many other interesting ideas.  ​
    As students are working, circulate among them and help them to identify thick topics.

  6. In writing, students answer questions such as:


    • What is a “thick” topic?  

    • What makes a good topic for an assignment?


    • How can drawing and sketching help you to learn more about the possibility of a topic for an assignment?

    • How can you select the topic you want to use for an assignment?
Downloadable Resources 
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