Generate a List of Interesting Topics
by Chino Baluyut


img_04071Arnold followed his writing teacher’s advice and decided to begin his high school application in the summer.  He logged out of his Minecraft server and summoned Google Docs.  Seconds later, a blank page materialized in front of his eyes.

“What now?” asked Untitled Document.

“Uh… I don’t know what to write about,” Arnold replied in his head.

“Well, you better start, or I’m going to conjure a screen saver.”

Arnold, unsuccessful, soon found himself back into his fantasy world stabbing skeletons and banishing zombies.

I don’t know what to write about is the most typical response when adolescents are faced with very general essay prompts such as:

“Write about a time, experience, or person that has changed and shaped your life.”

Though this topic may be easy for some, I’ve encountered students like Arnold who feel overwhelmed by answering such an open-ended topic.  If you feel the same way, here are two things you can do:

Read all the prompts early. As I have previously mentioned, starting early gives your subconscious ample time to internalize the demands of application prompts.  Think of your essay as a perfect bowl of beef bourguignon (French beef stew). Legendary chef Julia Child recommends at least three to four hours of simmering to create flavorful morsels that will fall off your fork.  You cannot stir fry writing ideas in a hot wok and expect gourmet results.

Generate a preliminary list. I love making simple running lists.  In this instance, Arnold has to write about a person who has “changed his life.”  Instead of making him enumerate his idols, I ask him what he likes to do during his free time.

“Minecraft!  Video games!”

There.  We have a start. I scan Wikipedia and add the first person to the list:

  1. Markus Persson, founder of Mojang (company that started Minecraft)

“Do you know that Markus Persson is only 34 years old … and Swedish?”

After enlightening Arnold on the relevance of Abba, Ikea, and Ace of Base, I make other connections.

“OK, since you are such a big gamer, have you ever heard about Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.  He is considered to be one of the forefathers of the video gaming industry.”

“Cool.  I know that Atari produced the first video game console.  I think my dad still has his old one.”

“Yes. And did you know that Bushnell was the first boss of a teenage Steve Jobs?”

“Really? Before he started Apple?” Arnold asked as he whipped out his iPhone.

We now have three possible topics, a preliminary list that has the potential to snowball into a roll of tech titans.

Influential people

  1. Markus Perrson
  2. Nolan Bushnell
  3. Steve Jobs

Focus on the student’s interest. Ideally, this list will also urge our young gamer to do some actual research (instead of battling online monsters).  When we tap into a writer’s interest, generating possible topics becomes easier and more enjoyable.


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