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The Reading Coach

Strategies for
Teaching Pre-Writing:
Idea Generation
And Organizing


Good writing doesnt start with formulas and formats. Thinking, defining what the writer wants to say, planning, and exploring -- that is where it begins. Use the strategies below to help students realize they have powerful, important things to say.

Always giving them choices, sometimes theirs, sometimes yours (more than one). There are millions of ideas for persuasive pieces. Model often and repeatedly how you think of ideas. That part takes time. In science class, blurt out Oh, Id like to write about this," and explain the thinking that prompted that outburst. In literature class, pose the idea of writing an alternative ending to a story. Lucy Calkins reminds us in Raising Lifelong Learners that great ideas often come from a single moment, a snapshot. We want students not to write about the ocean but about one grain of sand."

Help students remember the difference between There, Their, and Theyre with this quick explanation:

* Theyre has an apostrophe. Thats a hint that it is a contraction. The contraction means they are. None of the other words has an apostrophe.
* There is the opposite of here -- the only difference in the spelling is one letter (t).
* Their -- the one word left -- is possessive, belonging to a group of people (i.e., their work).

Train students (and yourself) to think as writers. Teach the process, but remember, there isnt always time to whip out a graphic organizer or write an outline. Those tools can help students think but, if you use them, focus on the concept behind them rather than simply on how to fill in the blanks. Make a connection by using the same organizers for post-reading comprehension and writing. As students frequently practice organizing and defining a topic, they can think and compose more quickly when they must.

Teach them to use questions to organize. What comes first? What comes next? What comes last? Ask:

  • What do I want to know/share about this?
  • What does it look, smell, sound, feel or taste like?
  • Which particular purpose or point of view do I choose?
  • Who, when, where, why?

More specific questions help narrow the topic -- fine-tune ideas during conferences between student and teacher, or among students, with the technique. Encourage students to make informal notes as questions are posed.

The goal is to communicate how thinking can organize their writing and communicate their ideas logically and clearly. Accomplish that in your classroom by helping each student find the best way to organize his or her writing. One size doesnt fit all.

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, Family Network, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.
Cathy lives with her husband, Chuck, eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, and lots of friendly, ferociously read books in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.