Good Ideas Start Long Before Brainstorming: Overview and Rationale

Journalism students need to recognize generating story ideas is more than a brainstorming activity; it is a way of observing the world they live in. An effective story begins with a well-planned idea.

Goals for Understanding Essential Questions

  • Where are the good stories found?
  • What is the difference between a topic and a story idea?
  • What makes a story newsworthy?
  • What about the reader’s viewpoint:
  • How is this connected to our school, to our readers? Can it be connected to our school?
  • Why should our readers care about this?

Critical Engagement/Meets Common Core:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well- structured event sequences.

Resources/Materials (List all materials/audio-visual needs.)

  • Put optical illusions and hidden pictures into Powerpoint to show on classroom screen if desired.
  • Idea book format sheet if desired
  • Sample idea book entry if desired
  • List of the ten elements of news: timeliness, proximity, prominence, drama, oddity, conflict, sex, emotions, and progress.

Overviews and Timeline Activity 1 Gaining Perspective:

Journalists pay attention to the world around them. By taking a closer look at the seemingly ordinary, an easily missed story may be found.

  • Show students a series of illustrations/photos that can be seen from different perspectives. Two examples of this would be optical illusions like the drawing of a young lady/old woman, or hidden picture puzzles such as are found in Highlights Magazine.
  • Look at pictures in a large group or divide into small groups of 3-4 students. Discuss the more subtle aspects that can be easily missed at first glance.
  • Walkabout: Divide students into small groups of four. Name them—A, B, C, D within each of the groups, and send them on a walkabout around the school. They should write down anything they notice. Paying attention to what is on the walls, doors to classrooms, lockers. Paying attention to any items in the halls—why is it there? Paying attention to the atmosphere—Is it light/dark? Warm/cold? Clean/cluttered?
  • When students return, redistribute them by grouping all the A’s together, all B’s together and so forth. Students should share and discuss the information they gathered. They should look at topics from a reader’s viewpoint, and make a list of which items have the potential to become a story. Which stories are newsworthy?


  • Have students keep an observation journal for a week. As students go through their week, they should observe the world around them— inside of school and out—for potential stories. Put into groups at the end of the week and have them share and analyze.
  • Students should collect at least three topics from this activity to share during brainstorming.

Activity 2: Turn those topics into ideas using an Idea Book.

A topic is a general idea. A story is more specific and sharply focused. It meets the criteria of one of the ten elements of news and has relevance to the reader. Drawing from all the generated topics in Activity 1. Students learn how to turn them into potential story ideas.

  • Begin a discussion with the question, “What makes a story newsworthy?” Review the ten elements of news and reader interest/needs.
  • Teach students to log stories by employing an Idea Book
    • Using a spiral notebook, students can organize their idea books in following format.
    • Usually 2-3 story ideas will fit on each page. Number of the idea, and name the topic
    • Write 1-2 sentence summary of the idea
    • Identify type of story: news, feature, opinion
    • Write a working headline
    • List three questions that the story will answer for the reader Give one sidebar idea to complement the story
    • Identify one possible photo to complement the story

Three ways to generate ideas

  • Class generated: Have a story lead written on the board when students come into the classroom, such as this one from the New Hampshire Union Leader:

LONDONDERRY — A 14-year-old boy traveling with his mother on Interstate 93 Wednesday was killed when the car pulled over and he jumped out and was hit by an oncoming car, officials said.

    •  Ask students to develop a relevant idea book entry for our school’s paper from this story.
    •  Students will individually think about the reader’s viewpoint and the ten elements of news and follow the idea book guidelines.
    •  Share ideas with the class.
  • Individually generated
    • Distribute copies of local newspapers to the class. Have students read through stories and generate story ideas within the idea book guidelines thinking about the reader’s viewpoint and the ten elements of news.


  • Through out the quarter, students should generate three idea book entries gotten from the local newspapers, online newspapers, or other student newspapers.
  • Collect idea books every quarter for grading.
  • Students should be prepared to share at least three ideas during brainstorming.

References Recommended