How to… Spin an Effective Web

Charlotte’s Web is my all-time favorite children’s book. I read it several times as a young girl, and I have read it with both of my boys as well. I even really enjoy the movies (cartoon and real-person). In this story, Charlotte (the spider) uses her ability to weave or spin webs and combines it with her intelligence to save her friend Wilbur’s (a pig) life. Charlotte’s webs conveyed simple ideas about her subject in such a significant way that others were motivated to break their usual habits resulting in a long life for Wilbur.

Weaving an effective web (also known as webbing, mind mapping & clustering) with regard to generating and organizing ideas can produce much the same impact as did Charlotte’s webs if a few, simple guidelines are followed. As noted in How To… Create and Use an Effective Outline, idea generating techniques like outlining and webbing work well for anyone wanting to generate ideas not just writers. Webbing works well for individuals who prefer visualizing their ideas in more of a picture format, and it can work well for anyone needing to create ideas whether for a project, presentation, procedure or even planning for a vacation or trip (see photo).

  1. Consider more than one idea. Charlotte discussed ideas with the other barnyard animals, and she even sent Templeton the rat in search of possible words she could use to describe Wilbur. When using a web to generate ideas, avoid limiting yourself to only one line of thinking. Be willing to explore any direction your thoughts might want to go. Remember that this is just idea generating, so you don’t have to ultimately use all (or any) of what you write in your web.
  2. Give your best effort. Often while having to create her webs, and especially toward the end, Charlotte became very tired. Yet she refused to give up the quality of what she was doing. While we may not always feel like creating new ideas, a web can help us move forward in our best effort for that moment by providing an easy process to follow. Simply writing down one word at a time can create an effective web, which can then help an individual move forward even when ideas are slow in coming.
  3. Find motivation. Moved by a deep desire to save her friend’s life, Charlotte refused to give up even when hope seemed lost. While webbing provides a terrific visual for recording basic ideas, having the tool does little good with no ideas to write down. Choosing a topic about which you are passionate, flipping through magazines, talking to someone and even going for a run are all great ways to get the ideas flowing and to find the motivation for ideas.
  4. Follow a general process. “Now for the R! Up we go! Attached! Descend! Pay out line! Whoa! Attach! Good! Up you go! Repeat!” While Charlotte had not written words in her web before, she soon found a routine that worked well based on her previous experience weaving webs. Webbing to generate ideas also follows a basic process: Choose a word that identifies your topic and write that in the middle of your paper, then write words all around your main word. These words can be whatever you think of related to your topic. Next, write words around each of those words in similar fashion. You can circle each word you write and connect the circles with a line if you want, creating what looks like a web.

My youngest son lives life very visually and tactilely, and his preferred method of generating ideas is webbing. (He also likes to use Venn diagrams.) As my son and many of my students have taught me, webbing provides a way of processing ideas that more visual and tactile individuals seem to prefer.

Webbing (or whatever you choose to call it) allows for individuals to simply get ideas out of their head and onto paper, a problem that so many of my writing students had, without having to commit to a specific order. The next step quite often is to Create and Use an Effective Outline, but some people (my son for example) move right into writing a draft or completing the steps written down without needing to put them in order. Webbing simply frees up the ideas that so often get stuck in the mind. Once the ideas are out, action can then easily take place.

6 thoughts on “How to… Spin an Effective Web

  1. I like this idea where you expand your mapping as your thinking expands. I think writing down like this helps you not to lose stuff you have thought about. It is nice to think through a problem in your head but it is easy to forget where you put an idea down when picking another one up and you cannot find it once you look for it later. If you write it down it helps not only to organize but to capture like a spider does with its web. It allows you the freedom to keep expanding your thinking without spending energy remembering what has gone before.

    • You describe the idea behind webbing very well. Kind of like a spider catches a fly, we can catch and keep our ideas before they escape. Great expansion of my analogy!

  2. I personally don't find mind-mapping to be effective for me. Some people swear by it, though. For me, I get so concerned with categories and where to put things graphically that it delays my thinking and creativity. I've found the best thing for me is just to dump everything onto a paper or computer screen as quickly as I can while I'm thinking about it.

    • I don't use mind-mapping that much either, but I have seen it work very well for many others, so I see the value in it for sure. I guess I should clarify that I don't use it for myself much, but I do use it when working with others to help them brainstorm. Great for a group brainstorming sessions. Typing dump is another great way to get ideas out. I use that occasionally. Mostly, I use notes and outlines of some form in my idea book. As long as what we're doing works… Although, there is wisdom in giving another method a try once in a while to see what happens. (I'm talking to myself here… I like my routines.)

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