Blank pages can be the mortal enemy to any writer. It is common for students to face this when they have to write in school. The blank screen is looking back at them saying

“Write something. Anything. But what if it’s wrong? What if I don’t have anything to say? What do I do now?”

My students would express these fears, especially in writing-intensive courses like AP U.S. History or undergraduate research classes. However, there are pre-writing strategies we can use to calm those anxieties.  

Gaining an understanding of a topic is an essential step to writing. Even after you have that knowledge, whether it was through reading or other means, you still may ask yourself when it’s time to write: What am I supposed to do now?

Visualize Your Writing

Visual mapping, such as graphic organizers (GOs) and concept maps, are a great way to organize your knowledge and thoughts on what you will say in your writing. These tools will help you to brainstorm what to say (i.e., your knowledge on the topic), why you want to say it (i.e., argument/significance of the topic), and how you will say it (i.e., organization and structure).

Visual mapping can help tackle the mind going blank. Once you have just a few words down, you have something to center your thinking around. On the other end of the spectrum, it can also help with too many thoughts and not sure which ones to pick. After jotting down your ideas, you can organize them to see what stays and goes.

Why I like using graphic organizers in my writing, and for many of my students as well, is that they can take stock of what they know on a topic. Once that information is down on paper, they can start to move it around to make better sense of it. Some of my students will even draw out their ideas to further understand something. And despite my lack of artistic skills, I’m also known to doodle simple drawings to capture my train of thought.

I also like using graphic organizers as a pre-writing strategy because they reflect the multiple ways that most writing assignments can be completed. In other words, there is more than one way to respond to a writing prompt or essay question. Now, all teachers may not agree with this statement, especially if there is a specific purpose in mind for the assignment, but in the end, the writing is from you and represents your understanding of the topic. So, don’t worry about having the “right” response.

How to Use Graphic Organizers to Write

Graphic organizers are an excellent way to practice critical thinking and reasoning skills. Below, you can download your free copy to six graphic organizers to help brainstorm writing topics. They are inspired by the types of writing assignments students do in a history class but can be used in many subject areas. To figure out which graphic organizer to use, determine the purpose of the writing assignment:

  • Explain why did something happen? Use the Causation organizer pp. 3-4
  • Compare two or more variables? Use the Comparison organizer pp. 5-6
  • Describe the broader background that influenced a central topic? Use the Contextualization organizer pp. 7-8
  • Determine if something stayed the same or changed? Use the Continuity and Change organizer pp. 9-10
  • Explain why one thing happened versus another? Use the Periodization organizer pp. 11-12
  • Connect several ideas into something new? Use the Synthesis organizer pp. 13-14

Taking some time before you begin writing provides an opportunity for you to think about the topic, organize your thoughts, and map it out. Now you have an initial draft of your writing. It’s not in paragraph form yet, but you have the nuts and bolts ready to go.

Want to get your hands on a personal copy of the graphic organizers listed above? Submit the form below to get your Critical Thinking & Reasoning Skills toolkit!


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