6 + 1 Traits of Writing Lessons: Generating Writing Ideas for Elementary Students

By Margo Dill

One of the 6 +1 Traits of Writing is Ideas. This trait incorporates brainstorming and choosing ideas that are specific and original. Elementary students often have trouble thinking of writing topics. In these lesson plans, students will have opportunities to create original writing ideas.

Modeling for Students

One of the best ways you can teach writing to your students is to model your thinking and writing process. Many times, we give students an assignment like: "Pick a topic and write a narrative essay about it. We've studied narrative essays. Now it's your turn." Even if you have spent the last week reading different essays, this task can be overwhelming for students. So, model the assignment. Show them how you come up with a topic and "think out loud" when starting the narrative.

The activities below are specifically designed to help students come up with ideas to write about, focusing on them being specific and narrow. In all of them, it is important for you to model how the activity helps to generate ideas.

Take a Walk

In this writing lesson plan, elementary students learn to generate writing ideas in their journals while they take a walk. The first time you do this lesson, you will want to model for students how to find writing ideas from taking a walk and how to record them in their writing journals.

  • Take students on a walk to a different part of the school or outside if weather permits.
  • Stop at a certain point and ask students to look at an object. For example, if you are in the library, you may stop in front of your favorite author's section or a painting. Outside, you may stop in front of a tree or a swing set.
  • Demonstrate orally what ideas you are generating when you look at this object. You might say, "When I see this painting of sailboats, I remember when I was in San Francisco with my family for a wedding. I could write about the wedding, what we did at the pier, or the sea lions. I will write these ideas in my writing journal." Remember you are focusing on the Ideas trait in the 6 + 1Traits of Writing. Be specific!
  • Ask students if this painting reminds them of anything. If it does, then ask them to write their writing ideas in their journals.
  • Practice several times with students before they are allowed to walk on their own to find ideas. Sometimes even "walking the classroom" will help students generate ideas. Walking the classroom is allowing students to take a 5 to 10 minute stroll around the classroom with their journals and write down possible topics. You may also want to model this activity before allowing students to try this method.

Free Writing

homework time by apdk In this lesson plan, students learn about free writing to generate ideas for this trait. Free writing can be taught and practiced in a few different ways. It is a form of brainstorming.

  • Ask your students to write about anything they want or give them a topic such as the weekend, spring break, or favorite TV shows. 6 + 1 Traits of Writing does not have to be rigid. You can have flexible topics.
  • Students should write for a certain amount of time without stopping. This is sometimes hard for students, but with free writing, they do not have to think about word choice, topic sentences, or even punctuation. They just write.
  • If they don't know what to write, they can write, "I don't know what to write right now. She is making us do this for a long time. Oh, I see Frank is thinking, too. I remember the time Frank and I. . ." Model this technique for elementary students.
  • When students are finished free writing, ask them to take out a highlighter. Ask students to highlight any possible topics in their free writing paper, and add these ideas to their writing journals.

Word webs

Elementary students can also generate ideas with word webs. Word webs are graphic organizers that can help students create specific ideas from general ones. Writing lessons often focus on how ideas are too general and need to be narrowed down, so this activity teaches that concept. For example, you can give your students a general writing idea such as love, hope, or fun activities. Then ask them to use a word web to think of writing ideas based on the general idea. They can do this activity in their writing journals.

Excited About Writing

When students come up with a topic they are excited about, they are more excited to do the writing assignment. Take class time and show students how to think of original ideas and topics that will be easy to write about. Help students develop a love for writing instead of dreading it. One way to do this is allowing them to write about what they want, and in the process, you can show them how to choose appropriate topics.