Prewriting Study Guide (page 2)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
Writers plan ahead to organize their ideas. This lesson shows you how to brainstorm and organize your thoughts before you start writing.
Think of your favorite book. Did the author sit down and write the whole book in a day, or even a week? Chances are, your favorite author uses the writing process. Writing is called a process because it isn't just one step. Writers spend lots of time thinking before they even start writing. That's because the purpose of writing is to communicate ideas, so the first step to good writing is to have strong, clear ideas to convey.
Prewriting is the first step in the writing process. This step helps you to come up with ideas about the topic. There are many ways to prewrite, and you can experiment with the method that works best for you. When your ideas are clear, you'll be ready to organize them and start writing.
Suppose you plunge right into writing an essay about your summer vacation. You write about the new bike you got and the tree house you built with your best friend. As you reread your essay, though, you might realize that your first paragraph sounds silly, or that you left out the story about your trip to your grandparents' house. You might have forgotten lots of interesting details, or strayed too far from the original topic.
The purpose of prewriting is to generate ideas about the topic. You probably have lots to say about your summer vacation, but it could be harder to come up with ideas for an essay about politics or history. By prewriting, you can write down all the ideas you think of, and then pick the best ones to include in your writing. You'll also be able to see whether you need more information about the topic. This can save you lots of time in the long run!
There are many ways to prewrite. This lesson shows you several simple methods to get your ideas flowing.
Brainstorming means coming up with many ideas that are related to a topic. You can brainstorm by yourself, with a friend, or with a teacher or parent. In fact, talking with another person about your topic and ideas can be quite useful, because he or she might have a different perspective on the topic. Brainstorming with someone else can help you see connections and ideas that you might not have thought of before.
When you brainstorm, be sure to take some notes on paper. You'll want to remember all the great ideas you come up with! You can start by writing down the topic. What does the topic make you think of? Do you associate it with a particular person, event, or experience? If it's tough to make your own connections, try to think of it from another person's perspective. How would your grandparents respond to the topic? If a student from Africa were going to read your essay, what information would she find really interesting?
Suppose you're assigned to write an essay about American culture in the 1920s. Your brainstorming notes might look like this:
- The 1920s
- "Roaring Twenties"
- modernist art and literature
- Babe Ruth
From the list, you'll be able to pick a specific direction for your essay. You can draw connections between ideas, or eliminate the ideas that won't work well for the assignment. If you already have a pretty good idea of what you want to write about, try brainstorming for specific details. You might brainstorm for the five senses: what sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings are significant to the topic? You might think of a specific story to tell, or identify strong words or images to include.
Remember, when you are brainstorming, there are no wrong answers. Just write down all the ideas you have, to encourage your brain to think creatively. Later, when you start to organize your essay, you'll be able to choose only the best ideas and ignore the rest.
Freewriting, also called journaling, is an exercise to help you start writing and connecting ideas. There are no rules for this type of prewriting. Just grab a pen and a notebook and start writing. A paragraph might be enough to get your creativity flowing, but a few paragraphs or pages will give you more ideas to work with.
Every few minutes, look back at the original topic. Try to keep focused on the topic, but experiment with many ways of looking at it. Like brainstorming, there are no right or wrong ideas in freewriting. Don't worry about your spelling, grammar, or organization. Don't revise or correct your sentences. Just write!
When you have finished freewriting, read what you've written. Which sentences contain the most interesting ideas? Can you expand on any of the ideas with more details? Are any of the ideas boring or predictable? Use a highlighter or marker to highlight the ideas that seem the most promising. Copy your best ideas onto another piece of paper, where you can start more specific brainstorming or outlining.
A list, like the brainstorming example, is a very basic way to show information. Lists can be especially useful when you're ready to organize information in a certain order. You can use more than one list, or write two lists side by side to compare ideas. For example, this prewriting uses lists to compare and contrast two perspectives.
Topic: What are the advantages and disadvantages of year-round school?
Advantages Disadvantages 1. Several breaks evenly spaced 1. No extended vacation 2. Easier to remember information between semesters 2. No long break from studying 3. See friends year-round 3. Can't do summer camp
The list in this example is already pretty well organized. Each list has three ideas, and each advantage has a matching disadvantage. Writing these ideas down as a list can help you see where there are holes or weak spots in your plan. If you intend to do research about your topic, you can also make a list of things you want to know, as in this example:
Topic: NASA's newest spacecraft, Orion.
Details to research
In what year was it built?
Has it been launched yet?
What is the design based on?
Is it manned or unmanned?
Where will NASA send it?
Lists are a useful way to prepare for your writing because they can help you stay organized and focused on the topic. Lists are also easy to revise or reorganize when you are ready to select your best ideas for writing.
Using Graphic Organizers
A graphic organizer can take many different forms, but one common graphic organizer is the cluster diagram. A cluster diagram looks like a spider web. To make a cluster diagram, start by writing the topic in the center of your paper. Draw a circle around the topic. Then draw a short line from the circle toward each corner of the paper. At the end of each line, write a more specific topic or idea, and circle those. Continue to branch out from each idea until you can include specific details.
Here's an example of a cluster diagram for the topic, "Why is it important to protect the environment?"
In this example, the writer has divided the topic into four smaller sections: land, water, air, and animals.
This helps the writer to brainstorm in a focused, organized way. He or she may eventually decide to write only about air and water, or just focus on animals. But by prewriting in a cluster diagram, the writer is able to arrange and rearrange ideas in a visual way.
The biggest advantage of using a graphic organizer for your prewriting is that you can create a picture, or a map for your writing. For people who like to learn from diagrams, graphic organizers are often the best way to brainstorm.
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