“I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it,” she sighed, sitting back and sinking deep into her chair. “It’s like I have too many ideas. They’re all little bits and pieces and fragments of thoughts, swirling around in my head. I don’t even know where to begin.”

If you’re a writing teacher, I’m sure that you’re no stranger to this frustration. It’s one that I’ve always found particularly difficult to bear witness to. I wish I could be more certain of what my students want to say, because I can’t help them begin to say it until their ideas are made clearer.

Back in the day, I thought graphic organizers would help. Everyone I knew believed in the power of the graphic organizer. Regardless of my approach, they never amount to more than glorified fill-in-the-blank worksheets, though. The writers I worked with needed more dynamic tools–ones that enabled them to capture those bits and pieces and fragments of thoughts. Ones that enabled them to tinker with their ideas a bit, prior to organizing them. Graphic organizers pushed writers to skip over this important step.

This is how I discovered the power of the Post It. It’s why I find Gamestorming compelling too.

The game below is adapted from the work of Gamestorming authors Sunni Brown, Dave Gray, and James Macanufo. I was inspired to design it after reading Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karen Morrison, though. Their thinking routines, which evolved out of research that began at Harvard’s Project Zero, remind me a great deal of this kind of play.

This game helps writers capture and then display the fragmented ideas that are swirling around inside of their minds prior to evaluating or attempting to organize them. This way, determining how to say what they want to say becomes far easier.

If you use it, please come back and let me know how it works!

Name of the Game: Conjure, Cluster, Categorize

Timing: This game helps writers release and then organize abundant and even conflicting ideas. Left unchecked, these seeds of inspiration begin grow and bounce around inside their minds, creating noise, soaking up their cognitive reserves, and depleting their creativity energies. Games like this help writers harness the crazy and use it in service to far greater purposes.

Goal: The opening of this game challenges writers to dump all of their ideas on the board, regardless of form or state of completion. Every little broken, incoherent, fragmented bit counts. Once visible, writers begin clustering and categorizing their ideas, noticing connections, trends, and often, the unexpected. As the game closes, writers use their established categories and the ideas housed within them to begin experimenting with potential organizational structures (paragraphs in an essay, chapters in a story, scenes in play, lines of a poem).

Number of Players: This game can be played solo or in teams of up to 4

Duration of the Game: Three rounds of play completed in 40 minutes

Materials Needed: Board or chart, sticky notes, pens

How to Play:

1. Writers begin the first round by jotting all of their potential writing ideas, regardless of how fragmented they are, on sticky notes (one idea per note). Once completed, notes are displayed in random fashion on a board or a chart or within an open space.

2. Next, writers review their sticky notes, looking for potential connections between ideas. They cluster their ideas based upon these discoveries.

3. During the second round of play, writers grab a stack of empty sticky notes and begin generating names for each cluster. These categories are recorded on single sticky notes and placed above the cluster they refer to.

4. Next, writers review the ideas within each category, remove those that they are certain they will not use (these ideas could be archived for future use), and add others as they emerge.

5. The last round of play challenges writers to organize their categories. Which category will they attend to first in their drafts? Why? How will it connect to those that follow?

Writers will order, reorder, and imagine varied structures for their pieces as they tap into the potential gained by making their ideas not only visible, but moveable.


1. Writers may choose to engage others in play by inviting them to cluster and categorize their ideas. Seeking varied points of view often surfaces new connections, ideas, and possibilities.

2. This game can continue long after time is called, especially if writers are able to store their sticky notes on a transportable board, within notebooks, or in file folders.

Like this game? Try Mind the GAP. It helps young writers define a genre, audience, and purpose for their work.



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