Here are some ways to get writers to overcome writer's block (at the
beginning of a project) or start generating ideas for an assignment:
- Freewriting. Write without stopping for five or
ten minutes. It's usually helpful to have the topic heading or a focusing
phrase or sentence in front of you, just to keep on track. But what's most
important is NOT to edit. Mistakes are ignored, false starts are ignored--just
keep on truckin'.
- Blindwriting. A variation of freewriting. Go to
a computer, turn off the monitor, and type away. Keeping the topic in front of
you with a post-it note works well.
- Listing. Have the student "talk aloud" about the
assignment and list ideas, phrases, etc. down as he/she says them. The tutor
can do the listing, too, but it's probably less directive to have the student
do it. Then, using the right-hand column of the page, associate items on the
list with each other. Gradually a structure for a paper will emerge.
- Mapping. This is a graphical, nonlinear version of
listing. As you talk to a student about an assignment, write down key words on
a piece of paper. Start with the general topic, the broadest key word for the
topic. From there add other key words, linking them to each other or to the
general topic as seems most appropriate. Just discussing with the student how
to draw the map gets him/her to think about relationships between ideas,
relative weight of ideas, and relevancy of ideas.
- HDWDWW. This stands for How Does Who Do What and
Why? Basically, this is a variation on asking the traditional 6 journalistic
questions (where, when, why, who, what and how). You could start with the
general topic at the top of the page, then draw a column for Who, a column for
DOES WHAT, and a column for WHY. Under each column list ideas related to those
- Double-Entry Listing. Essentially, this is just a
double-column format that helps writers think about oppositions. In the left
hand column you may put major points; in the right-hand column, you'd put down
either related points or opposing points. This technique is very good for
comparison/contrast papers and for "rebut an argument" papers.
- Matrices (or plain old tables). This might work fine
with someone from the sciences or social sciences, because they'd be used to
it. Columns might represents sub-parts to a topic or different examples.
(e.g., the topic is "Grunge Rock" and the columns represent groups like Pearl
Jam, Nirvana, etc.); rows represent other sub-topics. In the cells of the
matrix put more ideas, phrases, words, sentences, etc.