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Using Media to Generate a Topic


This activity is used when students need to generate a topic for a writing assignment or project. It is most useful when the topic choice is fairly open-ended. By exploring a range of media, students explore and identify topics that interest them.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Metacognition

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Launching Into New Content

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Speaking

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

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


Find a selection of age-appropriate media sources that include a wide range of topics. Make sure they are accessible to all students.  Some suggested sources include:

Prepare a list of wide-ranging topics that you are interested in researching to use in modeling.

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. Teacher models exploring media such as magazines and online news sources to generate lists of topics that they want to learn more about. Teacher thinks aloud about their curiosity about these topics. Teacher generates and displays a list.

    You can include a range of magazines, books, podcasts, short videos, and children’s news sources.

  3. Students explore media sources. They generate a list of topics.

    As students work, circulate among them and ask them about their thinking. Ask them why they are interested in each topic. Suggest related topics.

  4. Students get into pairs and share their topic lists. Students attempt to identify the two most interesting topics on each list.

    Alternately, they can use writing partners, re-read their own work, or ask the whole class for advice on which topic is the “thickest,” most relevant, or most interesting.

    Circulate as students are working, asking them about what they are noticing and pushing their thinking. Ask them:

    • Which topics are you most curious about?

    • Which topics could you learn the most about?

    • Which topics will support your work?
  5. In writing, students answer questions such as:


    • Why do people brainstorm?  

    • Which topics are you most excited about, and why?


    • What did you learn about your own interests today?

    • How can you use what you learned today to guide your learning in the future?

    • What strategies are most effective in finding a topic for a project?
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