Skip to content

Brainstorming Sessions

For some reason, perhaps because of how I used the writing center as a freshman, or misguided expectations, I was shocked by the amount of consultations I’ve done where a student came in without anything written, but simply wanted to discuss ideas. From my experience working at the writing center this semester, as well as teaching debate this summer, I’ve brainstormed (pun intended) some suggestions for helping students begin papers.

1) Starting the Conversation: Ask the student about the area or class the paper is for. Get them to explain what the issues are and what’s going on. By explaining what the subject is about, it helps get the student thinking about some of the key points they’ll need to address in their paper.

a. Sample Questions:

i. What is the subject the paper should be about?

ii. What are the themes of the course?

iii. What happened?

iv. What’s this about?

b. Pay special attention to phrases that indicate a student’s interest or opinion, as these can be the basis of a thesis or of the specific topic that the student then focuses on. When a student expresses interest or an opinion it’s useful to ask them more questions about those issues (i.e. why do you think this is interesting? Why do you think X is wrong/harmful/smart, etc? )

2) Probing their Interests: From a student’s summary, it is sometimes clear that they find certain areas or topics most interesting, or that they have a specific opinion on the issue. In these cases, as explained above, prod the student and ask them why they think this and to explain more. In many cases, however, these interests/opinions are less overt, explaining why the student elected to come to the writing center. In these situations, I’ve found it helpful to ask questions like these:

a. What topics did you find most interesting or important? Why?

b. What was your favorite reading?

c. Why did you take this class? Or what do you like about this class?

3) Formulating a Thesis: Once a student has identified an interest, or topic he/she wishes to write about, ask questions that help formulate an argument. Depending on the nature of the assignment, it might be helpful for the student to come up with several topics in case there is not enough material available on one of them. I find that if a student thinks something is interesting, they usually have an opinion related to it. Students are often drawn to the issue as they think it’s important to understanding something, which can often be the groundwork for an argument. Some questions I like to ask:

a. Do you think X is/was good thing?

b. Why do you support (or disagree with) the opinions of the authors you read?

c. What are the implications of these ideas?

4) Suggestions to Give to the Student

a. Free writing

b. Try to lose inhibitions when writing, and then go back and revise