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Group Brainstorming


^21st Century Skills Middle/High School Strategy


Flexible Thinking Self-regulation Social Awareness

Group Brainstorming

All students, particularly those who struggle with collaboration

How To Apply It!

  1. There is no right way to brainstorm, but there are strategies that can help ensure that everyone feels comfortable contributing and all ideas have time to be heard.
  2. Overall Structure and Roles: Establish a set time to begin and end brainstorming; assign a facilitator; agree on how you will take notes and who will be the note taker (a person different from the facilitator). Since teams tend to lose steam at the end, agree upfront on next steps: how you will narrow down your list, when you will meet next.
  3. Positive Tone: Two rules of thumb are (1) there are no bad ideas and (2) don't criticize others' ideas. Do your best to reinforce this positive tone. Sometimes a third rule is (3) quantity over quality. This encourages everyone to be their most creative without feeling the need to carefully think through ideas or risk being criticized.
  4. Participation: Create rules depending on the group and the objectives, e.g. everyone must participate once before someone can go again, raise your hand to share vs. shouting out. There is no wrong way to brainstorm, but it is important that everyone is respectful and everyone feels like their voices are heard which sometimes requires more rules depending on the participants. Here are some more structured ways you can guide participation.
  5. a) "Plussing". One person shares an idea. The next person responds with, "yes, and," or "what if," to comment on the idea or add another idea. Everyone agrees never use the words, "yes, but" to shoot down or negate an idea.
  6. b) Round Robin. Go around in a circle and everyone shares an idea. You can decide whether or not people are allowed to "pass" or how many "passes" each person can have.
  7. c) Structured Categories. If there is a clear output required, you can brainstorm according to your outline. For example, if brainstorming for a debate, you could brainstorm in categories of pros and cons. Or, if you know you need multiple examples, brainstorm by category such as political, environmental, social, technology (this is a common acronym called PEST).
  8. d) Write it Down. If you know you have reluctant and/or dominant speakers, consider having everyone write down ideas on sticky notes, to start, without names. Then put the sticky notes up with similar ideas grouped together. Discuss the groups of ideas.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Usually the goal of group brainstorming is to generate the best, most creative ideas by building on the team's diverse backgrounds, interests and knowledge. Since everyone is most creative when they feel relaxed, the best brainstorming requires that everyone on the team is comfortable sharing ideas without fear of criticism. Students could feel uncomfortable sharing ideas for a variety of reasons so it is important to think carefully about the optimal setting and structure which will vary depending on the goal and participants.