Four-Card Brainstorming Activity

This activity helps writers generate meaningful topics and details about them, to write about. The topic each writer chooses should be one for which the writer can remember many details. Include time, if it’s available, for writers to talk with a partner to think through their writing.



  • Number four index cards 1 – 4 in top right hand corner. Use 4×6 or larger cards.

Card 1: allow about 5 minutes

  • Write numbers 1 – 4,  vertically. Leave space to write a phrase
  • Next to each number list an experience that was important to you and that you remember well. Try to list at least four experiences. If time allows, people can talk to a partner about experiences they remembered.
  • Choose one topic from list about which you remember the most details and would like to write about. Again, if there’s time, talk to your partner about the topic.

Card 2: 5-10 minutes

  • On card 2 write a quick working title for your topic.
  • Brainstorm the topic, listing words, phrases, feelings – anything that comes to mind related to the topic. Think of the five senses.
  • Talk with a partner about the topic and the list of details. Add any details that come to mind through conversation with your partner.

Card 3: 10 minutes

  • Pick one word or phrase from the list on card 2 and now write in full sentences to tell about it.
  • Talk about what you’ve with your writing partner — for just a couple of minutes per person in a partnership.

Card 4: 10 minutes

  • Reread cards 2 and 3, and pick another word or phrase you can tell more about.
  • Write, using sentences, to explain about this word or phrase.
  • Share your writing with your partner.

Writers can continue with more cards if there’s time. The completed cards will have plenty of details about the writer’s topic. He or she can now choose among them to draft more of a full story, and can use the cards to help see how to arrange the details in a meaningful way.

–Activity first developed by writing teacher Don Murray at the University of New Hampshire.