Teaching Effective Thinking: Brainstorming and Brainwriting

This is my second blog post on promoting creativity in the classroom, following on from EAP Teaching Effective Thinking: Introduction.

Brainstorming is such a common class activity it hardly needs an explanation. It is worth keeping in mind that brainstorming is meant to maximise creative thought and therefore should be free of judgement. Judgement promotes inhibitory control (see previous post) which reduces creative thought and will minimise the number of ideas produced.
There are various ways of approaching brainstorming. Giving a group a prompt and asking students to come up with ideas is the simplest but its success is wholly dependent upon group dynamics. Less confident students will be less successful.
Mind-mapping can be a more helpful brainstorming exercise as it encourages connections and associations, enabling students to develop ideas step by step and make links between disparate themes.
Neuroscience research suggests priming may help. Showing students pictures conveying success or achievement or pictures showing diverse groups of people successfully working together helps prime the class before brainstorming.
Another technique to promote remote association is to offer the class images or ideas of things completely unconnected with the subject and ask whether and how they can connect them to the topic at hand.
Tips for effective brainstorming:
1. Assign a moderator
2. Identify clear goals
3. Set a time limit
4. Write down / sketch everything. Embrace the ridiculous. Don’t judge.
5. After brainstorming pick the best ideas and create smaller groups to focus on these.
6. Look for any ideas that could be mixed or linked.
7. Save evaluation for the end.
If the class is not as supportive as you’d like and students are not very confident Brainwriting may be a better approach. There are numerous approaches but what underpins them all is that Brainwriting is silent and individual but may take longer.
Give the class a topic or problem and ask them to write their ideas down quickly in note form. After each student has had time to do this, mix up the papers and redistribute so each student receives someone else’s ideas. They should then develop or modify the existing ideas or add new ideas to the paper. You can swap paper as many times as you like. Eventually each person circles the best three ideas on their paper and the class votes on the best ideas overall.
You can modify this process by having students record each idea on a post-it note rather than recording several ideas on one piece of paper, put the post-it note on a wall with space around it. Students can wander from note to note adding notes of their own developing or modifying the initial ideas. In this way you will easily identify the most intriguing ideas which can be discussed later.
Again, you could encourage remote association by giving students unrelated pictures to examine, considering possible concepts or principles which might be connected to the issue.
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