Introducing Complex Ideas to Students


I teach a lot of nonfiction in my junior-level and senior-level high school English classes, and oftentimes these nonfiction articles and speeches deal with new, complex topics. Before we read the article, I want to access my students’ prior knowledge on the topic, as well as get them thinking about the topic in an effort to properly prepare them to read and understand the text.

One such way to introduce new and complex topics to students is by having them create collaborative brainstorming posters. These posters are simple and require minimal preparation, but they generate excellent classroom discussion. This post contains affiliate links.

The materials you will need for this assignment:

To complete a collaborative brainstorming poster in class, have students get into groups of three to five students. Each group will get one piece of butcher paper, poster board, or chart paper. Each member within the group will select one color marker that they will use for the entire project.

Instruct students to write the topic in large print in the middle of the paper, and then have each student contribute to the poster using the color they’ve chosen. Each student will be responsible for contributing to the poster, and the marker colors help keep students accountable.

Each student in the group will be responsible for adding the following items to the poster in their selected marker color:

  • the definition of the word/concept in their own words

  • 2 or 3 traits of that concept

  • A person who embodies or exemplifies the concept

  • A famous quote related to the concept

I give my students about 15 minutes to form groups and complete this task. The posters do not need to be perfect, final drafts. Instead, they should be a starting-off point that introduces the topic to the students. Once they are done with the posters, I have students groups present their posters, with one or two students from each group sharing various elements of their poster.

To maximize the benefits these posters provide, I put them up on the classroom walls and refer back to them throughout the rest of the unit when we discuss the article.

Introducing Complex Ideas to Students




  • Love this idea. Do they have access to resources like dictionaries, the Internet?

    • Hi Diane. Thanks! They had access to the Internet with their phones, but I told them that I didn't want them consulting the Internet or using their phones until they completed the first part of the activity.

  • Excellent idea! I am picking up a senior Bridge to College English class and it has a heavy focus on nonfiction. I am going to be using so many of your ideas this year!


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