The Cubing Technique

The Cubing Technique



Johnie H. Scott, M.A., M.F.A.

Associate Professor of Pan African Studies

California State University, Northridge


Key Concepts:


  1. Kaleidoscopic
  2. Topical
  3. Genre
  4. Misnomer
  5. Aspect
  6. Intimate
  7. Neophyte
  8. Jarring
  9. Opportune
  10. Introspection
  11. Revelatory
  12. Convention(s)
  13. Misogyny
  14. Convergence




As one of the expanded creating techniques, Cubing provides those who make use of it an in-depth, kaleidoscopic viewing of the topic. Like the six-sided cube for which it is named, this technique allows one to study a subject from six different perspectives: description, comparison/contrast, association, analysis, application, and argumentation. Used properly, Cubing can be and is a powerful tool for generating ideas prior to the actual writing. Its tightly-focused structure places the user in the position of being mentally disciplined while opening the doorway for the sort of introspection that can, in the hands of experiences writers, be nothing short of revelatory. Educator and scholar Elizabeth Cowan-Neeld (Writing) is credited with having initially developed the technique described here.




For those who would utilize this technique, there are two basic conventions:


1)      Use all six (6) sides of the cube! In addition, the sides must be done in the proper sequence; and

2)      Move fast! Use no less than three minutes and no more than five minutes for each of the first five sides of the cube. For the sixth and final side – Argument – use five full minutes.

This creating technique lends itself to a variety of topics and subject matter. It can be used to analyze books, films, plays, essays, short stories, topical events (e.g., “The Rising Incidence of HIV/AIDS in Heterosexual Minority Communities,” “The Increased Violence in High Schools Across America”). Cubing can be applied to issues as well (e.g., “The Shortage of Textbooks in Inner-City Schools,” “Are Rap Artists Responsible for Lyrics That Promote Violence and Misogyny?”). In all truth, the Cubing technique’s only limitation is the imagination of the user. The greatest temptation for the neophyte, in fact, is to stop in the middle of the process after having completed, for example, the first three sides and then deciding that “enough” information has been gathered to fulfill an assignment. Here, once more, one must remember to follow the first convention or rule: having decided upon the subject of inquiry, use all six sides of the cube!


The six (6) sides of the cube are described here in the proper sequence as follows:


1)      Describe: generate ideas that tell what the subject looks like, that appeal to the five sense (i.e., sight, sound, taste, touch and smell). If one is describing a film like Bamboozled, then generate ideas that tell who wrote, directed, produced, starred in, or narrated the film; whether it is a feature or documentary; made-for-television or independent venture; black and white, color, or a combination of the two; animation; drama, comedy, horror, science fiction; takes place during what time period; length of film; takes place within the city, countryside, overseas; American-made or foreign (Note: If foreign, always good to tell what country of origin as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon being Chinese-made). Remember that you want to move fast, not worrying about spelling or sentence structure but letting the ideas flow freely;


2)      Compare: this is really a misnomer as, for this second side of the cube, you want to compare and contrast. To continue with the example of a film like Do The Right Thing, if you are comparing then one would indicate what film(s) are similar to it. In what way or ways are they similar? By theme? Setting? Plot? Characterization? Genre? Perhaps the film is a sequel (e.g., Jurassic Park III, The Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3). If so, then you want to point this out and identify the connection. Always, always you are looking and searching for lines that connect one to the other, the points of convergence. Switching over to contrast, you will want to identify that production which differs from the one being discussed and tell how. Perhaps one is a feature-length drama while the other was made-for-television. One might deal with a test of friendship while the other centers on betrayal. One might be a product of the 1960s (e.g., Raisin in the Sun)  while the other is a current release. Perhaps both films deal with the same “theme” or storyline (e.g., urban youth and street gang culture), but one (i.e., Menace II Society) is vastly superior to the other (i.e.,The Education of Sonny Carson) and you go on to list the reasons why. Move fast, remembering no less than three minutes and no more than five minutes for each of the first five sides of the cube;



3)      Associate: list the memories or thoughts that come to mind in reflecting on the subject. This is a much more personal, intimate side of the creating technique. To expand upon the film as a possible subject, write down the memories that arose as you watched a particular film. Perhaps the movie was John Singleton’s acclaimed Boyz N The Hood. I can remember many of my African-American students who went to high school in South Los Angeles that told of how they identified with scenes from that film. Did you identify with any of the characters? If so, then why? Did their stories ring true? Why? Was the setting for that film (or any other, for that matter) one that was familiar? Why? Allow the associations to flow freely from you. Who knows? You might draw upon one of those memories to serve as the opening for your paper, or a key point on which to hang the composition;


4)      Analyze: simply put, break the subject down into parts and then tell how each of these assists in propelling the story, paper, film. Think of the mathematical imperative: “The whole is equal to the sum of its parts and greater than any one of them.” You might want to discuss plot, setting, characterization, mood, tone, style. If the subject is a jazz concert or recording, then you might find yourself discussing individual members of the group and how they fit into the overall “sound” or professionalism of the product (e.g., think of the ways in which McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones contributed to the “sheets of sound” that jazz lovers remember and venerate jazz legend John Coltrane for). This analysis can be positive and negative. It can be negative when looking at a film or story and saying that while the theme was a great one, the character development was weak, or poorly done. Tell why. If you dislike a particular aspect of a program, for example, or find one part to be a jarring misfit, then this side provides the opportune moment to state as much. Remember, no censorship is involved in the creating process! Every idea is a potential gold mine;


5)      Apply: definitely one of the most interesting sides of the cube. For this fifth side of the cube, you state how the subject or topic can be used or applied. Would a particular book or essay, for example, be valuable in teaching a lesson? If so, then to whom? And, at what level would it be most effective? If you were looking at Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, then to what audience would it be the most effective in teaching about the persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazis during the Second World War? Would this be a good selection if your high school or college were hosting a Day or Week of Tolerance? If so, then why? And to what audience would you particularly want to target the film?


6)      Argue: The sixth and final side of the cube, you spend five full minutes in development here. You argue both pro and con, that is, looking at both sides of the topic. Highlight the strong suits of the subject, and its failings as well. If you are strongly in favor of the issue, then list what its critics or detractors have to say even though you might disagree with them (Note: You will want to point out later in your paper why you disagree with those critics!). Perhaps you like a film, but find the language may be too strong for certain audiences, or perhaps there might be too much violence or gore. Maybe you find the treatment of the subject unrealistic, or uninformed. State those concerns in this sixth and final side of the cube. Remember, the purpose here is to generate ideas, concepts and topics for the writing that is to follow. Keep an open mind.


Discussion Questions:


1.      In what way or ways does Cubing differ from previous creating techniques (i.e., free writing, brainstorming, clustering, Looping) that you have used or been exposed to?

2.      What do you see as the particular strength(s) of this technique? Why?

3.      At the direction of your instructor, develop a Cubing Technique on an assigned topic.