Brainstorming for Essays on a High School Level

Brainstorming is a key part of the pre-writing process.
... Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Brainstorming is important to the writing process because it allows you to get as many ideas as possible on the page. It's the first step to writing a great high school essay, in which you plan before you write. Some key methods of brainstorming include freewriting, listing, cluster mapping and questioning.

1 Freewriting

A focused freewrite is like a journal or diary entry. The key is to just write without judging or reading back what was written until afterward. For example, for an essay on whether or not high school uniforms should be mandatory, a student can write "uniforms" at the top of the page and then write everything that comes to mind from that topic, including opinions, personal examples and questions.

2 Listing

Listing allows a student to create an organized plan before writing, creating a selection of topics and then a bullet-pointed list of sub-topics. For example, for an essay about why the Internet is helpful, a student can list "school," "work" and "art." Then beneath "school," the student can list "homework," "research" and "e-mailing teachers." Listing creates a structured outline for the essay, so that the main list becomes the topic sentences of the body paragraphs and the sub-lists become the content of each of those paragraphs.

3 Cluster Mapping

In the center of a cluster map is the main topic, written in a circle. Lines branch off from that central point to other points and then each of these can branch out into smaller points. For example, preparing to write an essay about the "American Dream," the main topic is "American Dream," written inside a circle. Branching out from that might be "equal opportunity" and "success." Then, from each of those points more branches can be drawn. For example, "success" could branch off to "wealth," "good quality of life" and "happiness." This process can be repeated until the page is filled with clusters of ideas.

4 Questioning

Questioning is a brainstorming method that involves posing questions and then answering each of those questions. For example, for an essay about the dangers of texting while driving, a student can pose the questions: What are the consequences of texting while driving? Why is texting distracting? Who specifically does this affect? Why is this a common practice? What are specific solutions to this problem? The content of the responses to these questions serves as material for the essay.

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.