If you require your students to write a paper, you know that one of the toughest things for students is narrowing a broad paper topic to one that is sufficient for a course paper.  This quick group activity helps students begin to refine their ideas with some help from their classmates.

  • Have students take out a piece of paper and write their potential paper topic in the center.  (Tell them to write in small handwriting!)  Tell them it’s normal for students, as well as professors, to start out with broad paper ideas that need to be narrowed.
  • Then, have students form groups of 3-4.  Each student should pass her/his piece of paper to the left (or right!), and all students should spend 1-2 minutes writing what comes to mind when they see their classmates’ paper topics.  Show them a picture like the one above (perhaps with a slightly more related topic!), and explain that they are creating brainstorming webs.
  • Students should continue to pass their papers around until everyone in the group has commented on each other’s paper ideas.
  • Then, give students a moment to look at their webs.  If you want to spend extra time on the activity, you can also ask them to pair up with someone from their group, talk through their webs, and talk through any ideas that the activity spurred in their minds.