Helping Students Organize Their Thoughts Before They Write


Students often find that organizing their thoughts can be one of the toughest parts of the writing process. They can find the information, jot down ideas, and even take good notes, but they struggle to arrange their thoughts into a cohesive structure that helps them communicate their ideas.  

The way students organize their notes can have a direct impact on the quality of their finished work, so it’s important for them to learn how to do this effectively. As students are interacting with the text, they should be taking notes, and mentally categorizing the information as they read.  

The organization students choose should reflect the purpose of the finished work. For example, if students are retelling a specific event in history, a sequential organization makes sense. If the purpose of the assignment is to persuade, they should consider a structure that places the most important information first. This takes practice, but it’s an important skill to master.

Fortunately there are some exercises and strategies you can try to help your students learn how to organize their thoughts effectively:

1. Assign an article along with a corresponding word prompt.  Have students read the article carefully, take notes, and organize their their thoughts in a way that will help them respond to the writing prompt. As a class or in small groups, have students explain their organizational choices.

2. Encourage students to organize their notes by via a visual representation of their chosen categories. One example of this is color coding, which can be done with many note taking tools. Another idea is to use graphic organizers as seen in the video below.

Graphic Organizers

3. Have students organize their notecards using criteria they select, and then partner with another student. As each reviews the other’s organization, they can offer suggestions for making the flow clearer and more understandable. Here’s a video from our resource center to get them started:

Organizing into Categories

4. Students can orally present their organized notes, and critique each other’s choices.  

Once students are comfortable organizing their thoughts in a way that makes sense to them, they can tackle any assignment that comes their way!

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About the Author

Erin Harding

Erin Harding is a curriculum writer, content marketer and former educator who is passionate about literacy development and using technology to enhance learning. She is currently the Head of Content for Hapara, Inc.