What is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a large or small group activity which encourages children to focus on a topic and contribute to the free flow of ideas. The teacher may begin by posing a question or a problem, or by introducing a topic. Students then express possible answers, relevant words and ideas. Contributions are accepted without criticism or judgement. Initially, some students may be reluctant to speak out in a group setting but brainstorming is an open sharing activity which encourages all children to participate. By expressing ideas and listening to what others say, students adjust their previous knowledge or understanding, accommodate new information and increase their levels of awareness.

Teachers should emphasize active listening during these sessions. Students should be encouraged to listen carefully and politely to what their classmates contribute, to tell the speakers or the teacher when they cannot hear others clearly and to think of different suggestions or responses to share.

What is its purpose?

  • to focus students' attention on a particular topic
  • to generate a quantity of ideas
  • to teach acceptance and respect for individual differences
  • to encourage learners to take risks in sharing their ideas and opinions
  • to demonstrate to students that their knowledge and their language abilities are valued and accepted
  • to introduce the practice of idea collection prior to beginning tasks such as writing or solving problems
  • to provide an opportunity for students to share ideas and expand their existing knowledge by building on each other's contributions

How can I do it?

  • In a small or large group select a leader and a recorder (they may be the same person).
  • Define the problem or idea to be brainstormed. Make sure everyone is clear on the topic being explored.
  • Set up the rules for the session. They should include:
    - letting the leader have control.
    - allowing everyone to contribute.
    - ensuring that no one will insult, demean, or evaluate another participant or his/her response.
    - stating that no answer is wrong.
    - recording each answer unless it is a repeat.
    - setting a time limit and stopping when that time is up.
  • Start the brainstorming. Have the leader select members of the group to share their answers. The recorder should write down all responses, if possible so everyone can see them. Make sure not to evaluate or criticize any answers until done brainstorming.
  • Once you have finished brainstorming, go through the results and begin evaluating the responses. Some initial qualities to look for when examining the responses include:
    - looking for any answers that are repeated or similar.
    - grouping like concepts together.
    - eliminating responses that definitely do not fit.
  • Now that you have narrowed your list down some, discuss the remaining responses as a group.

It is important for the teacher to:

  • Establish a warm, supportive environment.
  • Emphasize that a quantity of ideas is the goal.
  • Discourage evaluative or critical comments from peers.
  • Encourage and provide opportunity for all students to participate.
  • Initially emphasize the importance of listening to expressed ideas, and model printing and recording of the ideas, then read each contribution to or with the group.

How can I adapt it?

  • Use this procedure to plan a classroom activity such as a research project, a field trip, a concert or a party.
  • Display brainstormed lists of words to be used as spelling resources.
    Add to brainstormed lists regularly.
  • Groups and individuals can use brainstorming to generate prewriting ideas for stories, poems and songs.
  • Categorize brainstormed words, ideas and suggestions.
  • Use brainstormed words and sentences for exploring sentence structures and for key vocabularies.

Assessment and Evaluation Considerations

  • Observe students' ability to focus on a topic or task in a group situation.
  • Note students' participation in the oral expression of ideas.
  • Monitor listening behaviours. (Do students take turns speaking? Do they ask for clarifications?)
  • Periodically record students' oral language strengths, weaknesses and development in their files.

Teacher Resources


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