Teaching Writing Using Idea Math

Guest post by teacher and author, Martin Tiller.
Idea Math

I am a writer. I am a fifth grade teacher. I teach in Chesterfield County. Over the past year, I have spoken to several different schools about coming up with ideas for students’ writing.

Like most teachers I want my students writing, and there are times when I want them writing on a topic of their own choosing. A lot of my student’s writing occurs during Guided Reading/Literacy Station Time.

My students have different choices of what to work on during station time. (Unless I they are called to come read with me at my table.)

At the beginning of the year, the very first week of school, I set my expectations for writing. Which really comes down one thing:

You Always Have Something to Write About

When students look at me and say “I have nothing to write about!”

I hate that.

Ugh! I so hate that.

This is how I solve it.

As a class we generate a Love/Loathe List

I take anchor chart paper and on the left side of the paper, I record things the students love. And the students have to create their own list, that they keep at the front of their writing journal. They can then reference this for the rest of the year.

So invariably we list at least:

Pizza

Football

Summer

I try to get to at least ten items on the chart, and on the list in their journals.

Next, we on the other side of the paper we list things we loathe. But before beginning this list, I lay down the rule that we cannot list people on the loathe list. (Yes. I’ve learned that the hard way.)

So he kids list:

Homework

Vegetables

Dentist

(Or maybe those are things I list; I can never remember.)

Again, I try to get to a least ten items.

So we now have at least twenty items on our list. At first glance it looks like we have twenty items that we can write about it.

And the kids need to have their own list in their journal. They’ve either copied from the class anchor chart or added their own ideas in their journal. So now they have at least 20 things they write about.

But with ideas 1+ 1 does not equal 2, 1+1 = 100.

That’s Idea Math.

When I do this list, I always add baseball to the love side of the list. But when I model choosing a topic to write about, I pick baseball.

But I don’t write about just baseball:

I write about my favorite team

I write about my favorite player.

I write about when I played baseball.

I write about last year’s world series.

The point is that from one topic, I suddenly have four quick things that I can write a lot about, and I am sure I could come up with more. And the same idea goes for items on the loathe part of the list.

Then BAM! We take it up a notch.

We combine ideas from the Love Side with ideas for the Loathe side.

I’ve presented this idea at a few different schools. And it is here when we get the best ideas for creative writing.

From my own list I would take baseball from the love side, and Brussels sprouts from the loathe list. (Sorry, to those that like Brussels sprouts.)

So I put on the board:

Baseball-brussels sprouts

Suddenly I can write about:

Brussels sprouts play a game of baseball on a plate

Baseballs that are grown in the ground like Brussels sprouts

Baseball players eating Brussels sprouts after a game.

When talking about this with sixth graders in Northern Virginia, we came up with turtles and football. (Why turtles were on the loathe side, I have no idea.)

Suddenly we have a football games with turtles. From our discussion we realized the characters The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a great example of combining ideas, Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtle.

Four completely different things come together to make something completely new. That is how ideas help with writing. That’s Idea Math.

My own book, Baseball and Aliens, is an example of this.  I took two things I like to read about, baseball and aliens, and created something new from it.
Never again should your students say “I don’t have anything to write about.”
Remember, Idea Math 1+1=100.

Martin Tiller teachers 5th grade in Chesterfield County. His latest middle grade novel, The Return of the Professor: The Dolbin School Book 3, is now available on Amazon. He can be found at martintiller.com and follow him on Facebook HERE.