The Writing Process: Prewriting

Contributor: Delaine Thomas. Lesson ID: 12089

You have been asked to write a paper about a topic of your choice. You have several great ideas; or, you have no ideas! Let Alex Faickney Osborn (Who?) help you decide what to write about and why!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Just the thought of "brainstorming" can give you a headache, what with all that ponderous thunder and pounding rain in your noggin! OK, read this lesson to find out what "brainstorming" really is and how it can painlessly help your writing!

What does it mean to “brainstorm”?

Does it mean that there is a literal storm raging in my brain, with thunder, lightning, and rain? No, it does not.

Before you read on to find out what it really is, if you missed or would like to review the first lesson in this The Writing Process series, find it under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar.

Alex Faickney Osborn (1888-1966) is the person who created this term back in 1939. Mr. Osborn was a very successful advertising executive and business owner during his time. In the article, “The Real Meaning of Brainstorming and How To Do It,” Helmut the author cites that Mr. Osborn had begun to have group sessions with his employees in order to solve a problem. So his meaning of brainstorm was, "‘brainstorm’ means using the brain to storm a creative problem and do so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.”

Mr. Osborn's definition of what it means to have a brainstorm is quite exciting! You will learn how to storm your castle in this lesson.

Before you start on Step One: Prewriting, watch this video, The Writing Process, from amayfiel, to review the steps in the writing process:


Today, you are going to focus on prewriting. During prewriting, you will select a topic that you would like to write about, unless one has already been assigned by your teacher. Then, you will gather details and take notes to plan what you want to share about the topic.

The first strategy we are going to discuss is brainstorming. There are many ways you can do brainstorming. When you brainstorm, you are going to set a timer and just list all the ideas you can come up with during that time. You are not to evaluate the idea to see if it is valid or important or that it even makes sense. Just write down in short phrases every idea as it comes to mind.

Mr. Osborn, whom we discussed earlier, had an idea to use brainstorming to solve problems in the workplace. You can use his idea with your family when there is a problem to solve.

  1. You can use a white board or a large piece of paper to write ideas that your family creates.
  2. You would put the problem in the center of the board, write it as a question, and circle it.
  3. Then, your family would meet and everyone would just start saying anything that popped into their mind to solve the problem.
  4. Someone would write down everyone’s comments without judging if it is a good solution or not.
  5. When your time is up, your family would discuss the ideas they liked best until a solution is found.

Even though Mr. Osborn’s intention was to use this in a group setting, you can do this on your own as well.

  1. You could write the problem as a question at the top of a piece of paper.
  2. Then, you could set a timer, say for 5 – 10 minutes, and write down every solution you can think of and storm your castle!
  3. When the timer goes off, look over your ideas and choose the ones you want to try to develop.
  4. Then, you are ready to write down details to accomplish the task at hand.

This is an example of a brainstorming list:

brainstorming list

This is an example of a brainstorming cluster graph:

brainstorming cluster graph

The second way that we can do our prewriting is to do what is called “free writing.” This is where you would set a timer and just start writing, and you would write everything that pops in your head about the topic.

So, going with the above problem, “What would I like to do this summer?", you would just start writing everything that pops into your head using complete sentences. You would probably even include the reasons why you wanted to do each thing.

Stop writing when the timer goes off, then look back over your writing. You might want to include a couple of the choices and underline the reasons you would like to do each thing. Then, you would be ready to gather any additional details to give your writing a focus.

The third and final way of prewriting we will discuss today is clustering. During brainstorming, you saw one type of cluster map. There are many others; they can be really simple like the one above or more complex like this one:

cluster graph

On this particular diagram, you would write the question, “What do I want to do this summer?” in the middle circle. Your first four ideas would go in the next ring of four circles.

Then, each of those circles has two circles coming from them. In those, you would write the reasons you want to do that particular thing. For example, if you said, “Go swimming,” you might say, “We haven’t been there in a while,” “I would like to learn how to swim,” and “It would be so much fun” in each of the circles. Then, you can start gathering any other details you want to add and start writing your essay.

Now that we have discussed several ways to start the rewriting process, go on to the Got It? section to see how well you understand what to do.

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