Brainstorming – Part One by Hall Houston

Brainstorming is an activity often associated with problem solving and creative thinking. It’s a student-centered activity that involves generating a large number of solutions to a problem. In this article, I will outline the main steps of a successful brainstorming session.


Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, first came up with the idea of brainstorming to generate more ideas for ads. Since he wrote about creative problem solving in his book, Your Creative Power (published in 1948), brainstorming has grown in popularity as a useful way to come up with new ideas.


The following is a brief introduction to brainstorming.


It’s best to begin with a problem statement, a clear definition of the problem you are trying to solve in question form. A few examples that might work in your classroom:

  • What’s the best way to quit smoking?
  • How can I save money?
  • How can I deal with a noisy neighbor?
  • What are the most effective ways to lose weight?
  • How can I make more friends?
  • What’s a good way to handle a cyberbully?
  • How can I become more self-confident?
  • What are some good ways to find a job?
  • How should I handle people who are rude?
  • How can we motivate students who don’t work hard in class?


To start, you might want to jot down a long list of problems that you think your students will relate to, then find the one that you think they will all enjoy discussing.


Once you’ve settled on a good problem statement, you need to arrange students in groups to begin generating solutions. The basic rules of brainstorming are:


Assign a group leader who keeps the group on track, but doesn’t interfere with the flow of ideas.


Generate many ideas, not just one. Some of the best ideas come up near the middle or end of a brainstorming session.


Don’t judge the ideas. Criticism can sometimes slow down the flow of ideas.


Allow for piggybacking, which means using others’ ideas to produce new ideas.


Unusual, even crazy ideas are perfectly acceptable.


Once students understand the basic rules, here’s a simple format:

  • Put students in small groups and give them about 10-15 minutes to discuss. Don’t interfere, but circulate and make sure everyone is contributing ideas. When time is up, give each group a few minutes to read over their ideas and choose the best 3. One by one, the groups will tell the class their ideas.


Brainstorming is a great activity for getting students to interact in English, talking about real topics that relate to them.


In part two of this article, I will go over some of the basic problems that can occur in a brainstorming session, and a few strategies for solving them.



Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It's for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. He has written 3 books: The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT, and The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL

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