Monday, January 26, 2015

4 Steps to Helping Your Student Brainstorm an Essay

I’m sure you all remember the class wide essay planning session where you teacher stood at the front of the classroom, chalk (or SmartBoard pen…we’ve a wide range of tutor ages!) in hand, drawing circles all across the board to create a literal web of ideas. Teachers referred to these planning sessions as webbing, mind mapping, or brainstorming. Though the origins of the spiderous-looking graphic organizers remain disputed, the group planning sessions found across the US from boardrooms to classrooms are generally attributed to an advertising executive in the 1940s. This gentleman sought to “storm” ideas with his group.

Boardrooms across the US wholeheartedly embraced the idea. Why wouldn’t they? Think about your own group projects from school—one or two people generally complete 80-percent of the assignment; the remaining members aren’t necessarily just along for the ride, but they’re happy to contribute according to the systems and processes that the more ambitious group members create. In the boardroom situation, the one or two members who generally contributed most of the ideas likely saw brainstorming as a means of motivating the rest of the group to contribute. Those couple of members still produced about 80-percent of the ideas.

Your student is a product of these boardroom experiments gone awry.

When he asks you for help brainstorming an essay, it isn’t that he hasn’t been exposed to a vast array of graphic organizers. He needs help creating the system and process in which he can begin to storm those ideas for himself. There is no magic app or graphic organizer that will do the thinking for your student. He needs your help to learn a simple, easy-to-replicate system that will allow him to generate ideas for when you’re not around to help him. 

If you can help your student implement this simple process, then he can achieve the confidence he needs to have success in his writing endeavors:

1)      Create a mindmap (web or whatever you’d like to call it) with the topic circled big and bold in the center of the page. Draw spokes (or you could call them sunrays, however you’re so inclined) radiating out from the topic. Provide your student with a certain number of spokes. This part is important. Research shows that students will achieve 75-percent more ideas when given a number of ideas to aim for.
2)      Leave the student to brainstorm independently. As Picasso famously explained, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” The student is then free to explore his own thought association. That’s all a mindmap is anyway; it just helps students sort through the filing cabinets of their brain for more ideas!
3)      Once the student has a map of ideas, then you can ask questions about each of the spokes to help the student develop more ideas. If needed, provide the student with more time to brainstorm. Don’t rush this process (unless you’re practicing for a test essay, but that’s a completely different process!).
4)      When you’re both happy with the number of ideas generated, then help the student select a graphic organizer that best fits the planning model for his particular essay. You can either draw one from your own repertoire, or you can find a selection of graphic organizers on our Pinterest page, ranging from planning a persuasive piece to a narrative piece of writing.

Implementing this practice will take time. The student needs how to approach creating ideas for future essays by learning from your modeled approach. With your guidance and positive reinforcement, he will eventually initiate the steps himself.

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