Mass Idea Generation: Another Important Trait from the Six Traits of Writing


Along with organization, ideas are the other trait that Paul B. Diederich felt deserved greater weight.


Good prewriting skills lead to good ideas. If students think the first idea that pops into their head is a good idea, it’s unlikely they will become effective writers or take great pride in their writing. Students need to understand that the first ideas that pop into their heads are just the tip of the iceberg.


Mass idea generation through prewriting makes this kind of thinking a habit. It’s not so much that students (and adults) must do prewriting for every single assignment they have, but they must be aware that they are not choosing from among just a few ideas, but that they are choosing from an unlimited number of possible ideas.


With the prewriting system I use students get in the habit of generating at least 80 unique ideas over a range of main ideas in anywhere between 5-10 minutes.


Developing the Habit of Exploring Endless Possibilities Before You Start Writing


I have a background in acting and the theater. A lot of actors will tell you that if you want to learn to act, you learn by doing theater. Acting classes are a poor substitute for real acting in the theater. Here’s why.


In acting classes you might rehearse a scene a few times, and you might perform the scene a few times. That’s it. You’re done. You think you have taken the part as far as you can.


However in the theater, you rehearse a part 4-5 days a week for 5 weeks. By opening night you have found layer upon layer that before lay hidden.


Six weeks later on closing night, you are almost embarrassed at how little you had understood both the character and the play on opening night. You realize how even on opening night you had just scratched the surface in understanding both the play and your character.


The next play you are in, right from the beginning you know that there are many, many layers that you can’t see at the moment. You know you don’t understand either the big picture or the subtle nuances that you will soon come to understand.


As such, you know to continuously seek new ideas and new interpretations. You learn new methods and new tricks for discovering different ways to uncover the hidden and complex possibilities that lay hidden in the words.


With each additional play you continue to learn how to more quickly uncover all the hidden possibilities. You learn that there are endless possibilities, some of which you will discover early, and some you will discover when it’s too late. But you get better and better, and faster and faster!


The Skill of Exploring All the Possibilities


Generating ideas is not something students should have a problem with. If they do have a problem coming up with lots and lots of ideas, it is most likely because they are not in the habit of coming up with LOTS and LOTS of ideas.


Students need to discover the “big picture” and the “fine details” early in the writing process. Don’t wait until it’s time to edit/revise to make it better. An effective prewriting system makes it better before students even start writing!


Frustrations with Prewriting


I have explored and experimented with many, many prewriting systems over the years. There are lots and lots of very creative prewriting ideas. Most of these prewriting ideas are not practical for students to use as a consistent prewriting system.


Graphic organizers are great. They are like math manipulatives for writing. However, they are rarely a practical resource that will help students get the job done. In fact, they are often more of a distraction than a problem solver. Students need a prewriting system that they can count on when they have work to get done.


Here are Eight Qualities of an Excellent Prewriting System:

1.      Quick, useful, repeatable, and practical.

2.      Improves students writing (I’ve seen prewriting systems that actually make children write worse!)

3.      A skill students can use and will use to get started writing and when they are stuck in their writing. (If the prewriting system is too complicated, students won’t use it. The prewriting system needs to be so accessible that students will naturally use it when they are stuck.)

4.      Will not distract children or prevent children from starting the “real writing.” The real writing is the part that people are going to read and for which they will be graded. (Some prewriting systems can be like an art project and prevent students from getting started on the real writing. They are fun and interesting, but not useful for everyday assignments.)

5.      Provides an opportunity for mass idea generation. (More ideas to choose from means better ideas get written on the paper.)

6.      Is easy for students to connect their prewriting to the actual writing. (There is an art to connecting prewriting to the actual writing. This art needs to be built into the prewriting system.)

7.      Helps students learn how to see both the “big picture” and the “fine details” of their subject or story.

8.      Student created. If the teacher has to “pass it out” it is not practical, and likely not allowed in many testing situations. As well, the student will not develop the self-reliance for organizing their own writing.


Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay has a prewriting system which gets students in the habit of generating at least 80 unique ideas over a range of main ideas in anywhere from 5-10 minutes.

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