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Brainstorming column ideas


In this lesson, students brainstorm ideas for their columns, then narrow down their ideas conduct research on a selected topic. Students will consider their opinions on topics both timely and timeless, national and micro-local, and then decide on what topics they are interested in pursuing. They will consider what research is necessary in order to present an informed opinion on that topic.

The News Gathering module looks at news judgment and what makes a good or interesting story, which applies to opinion topics as much as news and feature topics.


  • Students will brainstorm ideas for their column.
  • Students will assess their ideas and consider which ones would be best to write more about.
  • Students will conduct research about their topics.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.


50 minutes


One copy of topics packet (adjust to fit students’ interests)

Handout: Column brainstorming and research

ELL Differentiated Handout: Column brainstorming and research

Slideshow: Column brainstorming and research

Lesson step-by-step

1. Getting started — 10 minutes

Ask students what kinds of problems or controversies they see in their lives. Explain that they are going to brainstorm topics for their columns and then will conduct research on a topic they selected.

Divide students into five groups. Have the person whose last name comes first in the alphabet serve as the recorder for each group. Explain the topics on the sheets.

Give each group a sheet of paper and have them brainstorm topics under that heading that connects to their own lives. For example, when they are discussing the “In the News” category they should look for national or international stories that affect them or their community.

2. Brainstorming — 20 minutes

Distribute the pieces of paper and give each group a piece of paper. Tell them they have three minutes to brainstorm as many topics as possible for their category. They are to record all appropriate ideas (not to comment on ones they disagree on). When the three minutes are up, they pass their papers clockwise and start again with a new category. When the groups get back their original papers, give them a few minutes to choose the top 5-8 topics they would like to read about.

3. Share and discuss — 5 minutes

Have the group choose the most interesting ideas they see on the sheet — which ones would they want to read about? Then have each group share its top ideas with the class.

4. Follow-up — start at school, take home

Distribute the columns brainstorming sheet. Have students choose three different topics to consider for writing their column. They should consider what they already think and know about the topic as well as what they need to learn more about for that topic. Even if students know what to write about, have them briefly explore other options, and even if they think they know everything about that topic (they don’t) they need to see what other people are writing about it so they can write something unique. When students finish they can choose one topic to find three sources about; even if it’s a school topic, they can interview people or see how other schools deal with that situation. Emphasize the value of research.

As students narrow down their topics, pass around the big class list. Coach students to consider topics that touch them personally — they don’t have to write about their lives, but choosing topics that impact their lives in some way will help them steer clear of generic topics.

Note on topics: This is not a review writing assignment, so if students are interested in media-related or entertainment stories, have them consider broader ones: Are video games sexist? Do people need to read some good One Direction fan fiction before they make fun of it? They might be able to write how a film affects people and what they think of those results even though they are not reviewing the film as good/bad.