Generating Writing Ideas

“I don’t know what to write!” is something that I have heard countless students say when they have been told that they could write on any topic of their choice. Some students would jump straight in with ideas flowing, while others sit not knowing where to start. Their uncertainty led me to think about ways students could be taught to generate their own writing ideas. Here are three strategies that I have found effective, and students have found engaging.

Strategy One

The heart mapping strategy shared by Georgia Heard in her book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, is effective not just for generating ideas for poetry writing but also other types of writing.


Students draw the outline of a large heart in their notebooks, or they could be given a printed version to glue into their notebooks. In the center of the heart, students, in a few words or phrases, jot down their special memories, special people, and special events that mean the most to them.

Strategy Two

For this strategy, students create a running list of very broad writing ideas at the back of their writer’s notebooks.

Activity (Possible list ideas.)

Places they have visited.

Things they like to do.

Things they do very well.

First time they did something.


Favorite foods

Favorite movies

Favorite sport stars

Favorite books

Strategy Three

This strategy is centered around visual prompts.


Students collect photos and pictures from various sources, e.g., magazines, the internet, etc. They are then glued into their writer’s notebooks. Students will collect the images that they find interesting. As they look at their images, they can create stories related to them. For example, they could imagine what happened before the picture was taken, what is happening in the picture, and what happened after the picture was taken. They can use their imagination to create characters and stories around the images.

Students now have a bank of possible writing ideas, and they have a starting point for when they are able to choose their own writing topics. They can add to the strategies throughout the school year.

Happy Writing!