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Keeping a Class List of Writing Ideas: Discovering the Writer’s Life Blog Series


There are writing ideas everywhere.  Just yesterday, I snapped this picture of my youngest daughter chatting it up with an elderly gentlemen at the grocery store.


Do you see them there?  Sitting on the bench?  Something about the animated way they spoke and the hat he wore emboldened with NAVY made me think: I want to write about this.    

Because I live a writer’s life, I know ideas are everywhere. I know I have to write them down in my notebook or snap a picture or make a digital note, or I will lose my ideas forever.

We try to pass this habit along to our students by encouraging them to keep an ongoing list of writing ideas in their writer’s notebook.  In the beginning of the year students might be eager to make a long list of ideas.  How often, though, do they return to this list to add on?  The list which is meant to be dynamic and changing often becomes meaningless and unchanged as the months go on.

Kids need a model.  They need to see how a writer lives and thinks.  One way to do this is to keep a class list of writing ideas.

Let’s say you enter the classroom one morning to find a spider on the floor.  Eek!  You scream, all the kids scream, and chaos ensues.  After you have captured the eight-legged critter and restored a sense of calm, you say aloud to the class, “Wow, that would make a great story for someone to write.”  Add it to the list which hangs proudly by your classroom door.

As you introduce the math lesson on fractions, a particularly astute student asks, “Who invented fractions, anyway?”  You think to yourself hmmm, I don’t know.  The Egyptians? and then you say out loud, “I am not sure.  Let’s add it to our list of possible topics to explore in writing.”  You write “history of fractions” on the chart.

The kids pile in from recess, laughing and chattering.  As they settle into their seats, a few students retell the hilarious episode that just occurred outside on the playground.  It involved a swing, Jordan’s shoe, and good catch by one of the supervising teachers.  As the class continues to giggle, you walk over to the chart and write, “Jordan’s shoe mishap” on the chart.

Writing Ideas Chart
Click image to enlarge

Keeping a class list of writing ideas is not meant to replace individual student’s lists in their notebooks.  Rather it is to serve as a model for the class of how writers are always collecting ideas, always living the writer’s life.  Some students may choose to write about these topics, others may not.  However, everyone will benefit from seeing how writers collect ideas.

Discovering the Writing Life Twitter Chat


Please join us on Monday, February 8th for the Discovering the Writing Life Twitter chat. Use the hashtag #TWTBlog to join.  The chat begins at 8:30 EST.  We look forward to chatting with you on Monday.

Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

8 thoughts on “Keeping a Class List of Writing Ideas: Discovering the Writer’s Life Blog Series Leave a comment

  1. Dana, I love your post. I never thought of keeping a list of ideas as modeling a writers life. Just this change of perspective and modeling a writers life breathes a whole new life into the idea of a class list of writing topics thank you for a great post.


  2. I really love this idea! I love the community aspect of it. I wonder what would happen if several students told their version of “Jordan’s shoe mishap”- it would be interesting to see the same story from different perspectives. Last year, my class was doing a dictated writing exercise as part of our Fundations program. The sentence I had to read was, “At the explosion, Wendy dropped the beautiful candlesticks.” It was so ludicrous, I couldn’t even read it through my hysterical laughing. The students became so fascinated with the whole idea of Wendy and her candlesticks. We ended up writing our own version of why Wendy happened to be holding candlesticks at an explosion and made a class book. One of my favorite memories from last year!


  3. What a great idea to keep a CLASS LIST of writing ideas! I’ve never done that before. It really does solidify the importance of keeping a list like this in one’s own notebook when there’s a running class list (that’s hopefully tapped upon for shared writing throughout the year). Great post!


  4. I have chart paper in my first grade classroom with the title: We Can’t Wait To Write About…. Students add ideas as they arise and students stuck for ideas know they can look at this chart for inspiration. However, after reading your post, I realized that nothing has been added to our chart in quite some time. It was quite vibrant early in the school year but now it’s become wallpaper. Thanks for the reminder to rejuvenate this practice.


  5. One year we had a big garden spider outside our window. We watched it spin a web and create an egg sac. We did research and we even named it. Then one of my students wrote a whole story about it. That was a special experience for all of us. We saw that stories live all around us. Thanks for reminding me to make a class list of writing ideas. So easy to do.


  6. Yes! Somehow I always do this at the start of the year, but we do not continue to add on to it. Last year I resurrected it for the Classroom SOL Challenge- looks like it’s time to do it again!


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