Brainstorming: variations on a classic technique

Published on 23rd February, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

brainstormBrainstorming is a commonly used technique in our classrooms at all levels. It focuses students and prepares them for a topic, it can enforce co-operation and thus energise students and it shows students (and you) what they already know. In addition, it can be fun if handled as a competition. The most common way to manage this technique is to let students work in pairs or threes to come up with a list of ideas, and have one of the group members write them down. Here are one or two variations, which you could use separately or in combination:

– Give students different media on which to brainstorm their ideas, e.g. one group on the board, one on a flip-chart, one with a poster, another with a computer and projector.

– Move students around: if you have students working in fours at the initial stage, let one ‘representative’ stay with their list, then move the other three members onto the next group. Repeat this activity until each group has seen every list and compared it with their own. The ‘representative’ is the only person who remains in the same place. This activity works better when brainstorming bigger issues, for example not ‘types of transport’, but perhaps ‘the advantages and disadvantages of being a parent’.

– Leave the room, if your context allows it. Give a time limit, e.g. four minutes, and ask them to fill the board. They select the writer after you have left. This is a great way to focus students and I am always surprised at how productive students are with this subtle application of pressure.


  • I’ve used brainstorming many times in my lessons, and I was pleasantly surprised to see these variations. I look forward to trying these out this semester. I posted on my blog a couple of months ago about some different variations on brainstorming. You might want to take a look:

    Hall Houston on 25 February, 2010
  • Would just like to encourage readers to indeed check out that Hall Houston blog post, he has great great ideas!

    Lindsay Clandfield on 25 February, 2010
  • Erm, not to say the ones provided above by Fran aren’t also great. They are, and I aim on using them next time I get the chance.

    Lindsay Clandfield on 25 February, 2010