At the end of every Shakespeare unit, I have my students write an essay (usually in class with several periods of brainstorming, drafting, and editing). This particular assignment is geared towards grade 9. With junior high, I have the kids brainstorm for all the topics with me as a group before I let the kids choose their topic or start outlining, and I always leave the notes from our brainstorming on the white board until the assignment has been handed in. I like giving several options for topic, and identifying the level of difficulty for the kids. It gives them an opportunity to challenge themselves if they feel they're up to it, or to do a fantastic job on a simpler topic if they feel that's best for them at the time.