Brainstorming is a process for creating a broad list of ideas in response to an initial question or idea. Brainstorming emphasizes broad and creative thinking, inviting all participants' points of view in an effort to ensure that all relevant aspects of an issue or question are considered. Example: If there is a hurricane or another natural disaster, what should everyone do to be safe? It’s usually a good idea to keep brainstorming focused by using lists and graphic organizers so students can see the relationship between various ideas. Brainstorming can be done with the whole class, in pairs or small groups or individually. It also lends itself to using Think-Pair-Share, another strategy that is part of this set.


Brainstorming provides an opportunity for students to use English for a real task – generating ideas or solving a problem. Lower-level students may discuss their ideas in the native language but report their ideas in English. Intermediate level students should be able to conduct the discussion largely in English with some support for specialized vocabulary. In addition, the activity prepares students to use brainstorming as a tool for work and personal planning.

What to Do

1.Introduce a topic, ask questions and as students answer write their ideas on the board, either as part of a list or in the form of a graphic organizer.

2.In multi-level classes, consider Think-Pair-Share and have students write down one or two ideas on a sticky note. Ask them to work in small groups and organize their ideas before reporting out.

3.Keep asking for more ideas and offer some of your own.

4.Guide the brainstorm by scribing ideas as they come, stopping any comments that evaluate ideas and inviting new ideas, and encouraging the group to share their ideas freely. Help generate energy and free-thinking through encouragement.

5.Organize the ideas and make the organization explicit, saying something like Ah, you said we needed emergency supplies, so let me put “water” and “flashlight” under emergency supplies.

6.After a few simple brainstorms on topics that students are familiar with, demonstrate how brainstorming works and set some ground rules.

•All ideas, however simple or creative, are welcome

•No one will comment on the ideas during the brainstorm

•If you wish, offer a one minute "quiet period" before the brainstorm for people to reflect upon or start lists of ideas on their own

7.Explain what will be done with the brainstormed ideas.  .

8.Ask for clarification of any ideas that are not clear to you or others.

Keep in Mind Tips

Brainstorming relies on people thinking and sharing freely. Remind them of this as you enter the activity, and reinforce initial ideas and creative ideas to help everyone participate freely and fully.

•Be ready to stop the first effort at judging a suggested idea (as well as subsequent judging types of comments). Remind the group that brainstorming accepts all ideas without criticism or evaluation.

•Especially in groups where some individuals may be more reflective thinkers, give people a minute to start jotting down some thoughts on their own before starting the group brainstorm aloud. This will help those people get started with the whole group.

•Scribing technique: Use two different colored markers, alternating them with each idea. Make your letters 1.5 inches high or more so all can see (and work off of).

•With an active group, use two scribes so the writing doesn't slow down the idea generation.

•In cases where the items on the list should be prioritized, use “sticky dot” voting. Give each participant 1-3 sticky dots and ask them to put a dot next to the items they think is most important or most answer the original question. Identify those items that get the most votes and eliminate those items that have the fewest votes. This is not a mechanistic process. Leave room for discussion if someone feels strongly about an item.