Brainstorming Well

Brainstorming can be helpful when beginning creativity-driven projects, or even when customizing a language exercise. It may be as simple as coming up with a theme or topic, or it could be as complex as developing a story.

When your class is brainstorming, you want to make sure you’re facilitating well. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Open the Floodgates

Have prompts ready.

Use prompts to get your students started. You might also need prompts part-way through to refocus the students if they get off track, to encourage them to go deeper with some ideas, or to guide them in broadening their scope. (However, if the brainstorming is already going well, you may not need those prompts after all.)

Display the ideas.

Every time students throw out an idea, write it on the whiteboard, or draw a symbol for it, or type it and project it. You generally want the brainstorming to move quickly, so be concise – you want to represent the ideas rather than express them in full.

I like writing these down myself, but you may choose a helper to write everything so you only need to facilitate.

Categorize the ideas.

Put the ideas in groups. You might have a group for people and another for places and another for times, for instance. Or you might have one group for possible questions and one for possible answers. Perhaps there are groups for starting a process, continuing it, and finishing it.

You can use colors to differentiate the groups. Or put ideas into different columns depending on the group.

Accept bad ideas.

Some ideas are absolutely not what you want to use, but they might prompt other brainstormers to come up with similar but usable ideas.

Keep moving.

The first stage is just about expressing ideas. Don’t linger on any one idea yet. Instead, let brainstormers say their ideas as soon as they have them. Encourage your students not to overthink and just follow trains of thought.

Hone In

Narrow the focus.

After plenty ideas have been thrown out there and recorded, take a breather, then highlight/circle some of the best ideas (although you’re not necessarily committing to any of them at this point, nor are you discarding the others). Explain why you’ve chosen these ones. They’ll provide your following discussion with direction.

Analyze the ideas.

Let the students discuss some of the ideas they find most interesting. Why are they so interesting? What could make them better?

What happens when you combine two different ideas?

Choose the favorites.

Which two or three ideas are not only interesting for the students, but also take the best advantage of the exercise/task/project at hand? When ones best match that purpose and sufficiently engage your students?

Refine the ideas.

Once the top choices become more evident, explore the implications of those ideas and fill-in the details.

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