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An Idea for Workshops:

Great Lists
Great Writing

This writers workshop idea was authored by NNWP Teacher Consultant Patty Foncault.

The idea on this page was inspired by Katie Wood Ray's What You Know by Heart: How to Develop Curriculum for Your Writing Workshop

Where Can Ideas to Write About Come From?

Where do the ideas come from? Creating a list of possible writing topics is often suggested in books written by experts on conducting writer’s workshop.

I always start my year off by having students turn to the inside cover of their writing notebooks. Together we compile a long list of possible topics they could write about. I make it clear to them that when they finish one assignment they do not need to ask me what they do now that they are finished. They soon learn that my standard answer will be, “Take a look at the list of topics we brainstormed at the beginning of the year and choose one of those that you’d like to write about.” Not only does this help with the question of “Where do the ideas come from?” but it also helps with the question of “How do I keep them busy?”

The type of list you would create depends upon the age of the writer. For this reason I’ve included some ideas for primary, intermediate, and adult writers as well. Certainly this list is not exhaustive. It is only meant to get your own ideas flowing. You and your students will add to it, I’m sure. Just be prepared! Every class I’ve used this with really gets into it, and I usually have to call a halt to their sharing because we run out of time.

Creating the list is only the beginning. You’ll need to “prime the pump” a bit to get everyone going. I usually pick a topic or two out of the air and tell a story of my own about it. I literally think out loud, exploring what I might share with people if I were to write about it. Often, I actually will at least begin writing about it right there in front of them, using an overhead projector. Katie Wood Ray’s book, What You Know by Heart, has especially helped me in this area. It becomes positively infectious! The students get excited as they see you taking off with an idea. Pretty soon everyone has ideas to share and that’s when you turn them loose in their writer’s notebooks to let the magic happen!

For primary students, it is especially helpful for them to draw a picture, or sequence of pictures, to tell their story, adding a line or two under each picture to tell the story.

Primary List:

My favorite:

  • book
  • movie
  • stuffed animal
  • pet
  • candy
  • flavor of ice cream
  • store
  • place to go with Mommy/Daddy
  • friend
  • holiday
  • T.V. program
  • video game


My first:

  • trip to the dentist
  • trip to the hospital
  • tooth I ever lost
  • bicycle
  • puppy
  • ride on an airplane
  • day at school
  • birthday party
  • trip to Disneyland
  • time ice skating, skiing, etc.
  • camping trip
  • trip to the zoo


Something that makes me feel:

  • happy
  • scared
  • ticklish
  • tired

Intermediate List:

My favorite:

  • dessert
  • field trip
  • teacher
  • book
  • pet
  • holiday
  • day of the week
  • sport
  • thing to do after school
  • relative
  • amusement park
  • singer
  • sports star


My best ever:

  • vacation
  • birthday party
  • gift
  • friend
  • award
  • gift
  • surprise
  • Halloween costume
  • gift from the Tooth Fairy

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