The Traits of Writing: Ideas

Contributor: Delaine Thomas. Lesson ID: 12160

Do you have to write a paper but don't know what to write about? Is your brainstorm more of a light drizzle? Learn how to choose and narrow down a topic with the help of simple, strategic organizers!



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

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Have you had a great idea lately? Do you want to share it with others?

Grab a piece of paper and pencil or your writer’s notebook and take notes while watching The 6 Traits of Writing, from Heidi Perez:

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The video briefly described what you will be studying in this lesson: ideas. Sometimes, we have difficulty coming up with ideas of what to write about. Other times, our idea is too broad. Take the topic of birds for example — if we did not narrow it down, we could write a whole book about birds. If we took the topic of birds and narrowed that down to one particular type of bird, such as cardinals, then we just have one specific kind of bird to talk about. Now, you have a topic that is much more manageable.

After choosing your topic — and you are sure it's not so broad that you will be overwhelmed by the amount of things you might write, and not so narrow that it is difficult to find details — you may begin by introducing your topic to your reader. Next, you will want to add details about your topic. Remember to use your five senses when gathering your details.

There are many ways to brainstorm ideas. 

The first strategy to explore is called "categorizing." You could use this strategy if you have completed a brainstorming list. If asked to write down your favorite things, your list might look something like this:

Basketball Pizza Teddy Bear Chocolate
Matchbox Cars Football Blue Spaghetti


The next thing you would do is underline with the same color pencil or marker those things that are alike. Use a different underline with the same color for each different category that you find until all the words have been underlined. Then, name each of the categories.

What things in the above list would you underline or group together? You might underline Basketball and Football, with a colored pencil.

Basketball Pizza Teddy Bear Chocolate
Matchbox Cars Football Blue Spaghetti


These could go under the category, “Sports.”

What other groups do you see? "Foods"? Yes, there are Chocolate, Spaghetti, and Pizza. You could underline these with a different color.

What is left? "Matchbox cars" and "Teddy Bear" could go under the category, "Toys." That leaves the color "Blue." You could mark it off your list or make a "Colors" category.

Another strategy is to use a graphic organizer. Let’s start with the Sensory Wheel.

  1. With this strategy, you would write your topic in the center circle.
  2. Next, write one of the five senses on each of the legs extending off the circle.
  3. Then, you would write words on the lines that describe how your topic appeals to that sense — how it smells, what it sounds like, looks like, feels like, and tastes like. You may need to use figurative language, like simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, or personification.

For example, let’s say “Skunk” is our topic.

  • What does a skunk look like? Yes, it is black and white, it is furry, and it is a small animal.
  • How does a skunk smell? You are right, they really stink, don’t they? What are other words that describe a skunk's smell?
  • How might it feel to touch a skunk? It would probably feel soft, but you most likely don't want to get close enough to find out.
  • Taste would probably be blank because you probably wouldn’t eat a skunk, but you could use your sense of taste in a simile or metaphor to help describe the smell.
  • Do you know what kind of noise a skunk makes? If you do, you would put those notes on "hear," and use onomatopoeia to help the reader get a really good idea of the noise.

Another type of graphic organizer you may use is a Venn diagram:

You use a Venn diagram when you are comparing or contrasting two things. You would put the ways they are different in the outer parts of the circles, and the ways they are alike in the middle section where the two circles cross.

For example, if the two things you are comparing happen to be basketball and football, you might put sport, referee, coaches, fans, and team names in the middle circle because they both have these things in common. Can you think of other things that you might put in the middle?

The things that only basketball has are: they only play five players at a time, you bounce the ball, and when you score you can get one, two, or three points. The things that only football has are: they play eleven players at a time, they carry the ball, and they score six, one, or three points at a time. Can you think of other things that are only about basketball or only about football? This helps you see how a Venn diagram is completed.

The last graphic organizer you will learn about in this lesson is called a Line diagram. This is a type of flow chart where you write your topic in the top rectangle. Your three main points are written in the three boxes that come directly off the topic. Under each of those three boxes are two or more rectangles. These are for your supporting details. Then, using the organizer, you begin by introducing your topic, then move to your first main point, then list the supporting details. Continue until you have covered all three main points and add a conclusion that restates the topic and summarizes all three main points:

There are a number of ways to think of an idea to use as a topic for your next paper. Which of these do you think will be the most useful?

You will practice using these strategies in the Got It? section.

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