comments 3

Twist on a classic: Brainstorming

This is one of the most versatile activities I’ve ever found…

A classic

Brainstorming hardly needs any introduction. In class, we brainstorm vocabulary as a lead-in to a new topic. We brainstorm ideas before setting writing tasks. And we brainstorm language to ‘activate schemata’ and assess learners’ prior knowledge.

By the teacher on the board, by learners on the board or on by learners at their desks, brainstorming is THE most obvious way to generate ideas.

The twist

For a punchier start to the lesson, try competitive brainstorming:

  1. Give each group of learners a sheet of paper and a different coloured pen.
  2. Introduce the topic and tell learners to write it in the centre of their paper. They now have 2 minutes to write as many words about the topic as they can.
  3. Now rotate the papers. Explain to groups that they have 1 minute to add as many words as they can to the other group’s brainstorm. Repeat this as many times as necessary until the papers come back to their original group.
  4. Now count up the words of each colour on each sheet and add them up to find the winning group. (I sometimes skip this final scores bit with classes that aren’t all that competitive)

This starts the lesson off with a bang. But that’s not all it’s got going for it. It’s also a great way for learners to learn from each other. In fact, I usually add a final couple of steps to train learner to encourage this:

  1. Ask learners to pin their brainstorms up on the walls. All learners walk around, circling any words they are unsure of and writing these words down in their vocab notebooks.
  2. Now write all the circled words on the board and elicit the meaning from the learners who originally wrote those words, clarifying form/meaning/pronunciation as you go.

Variation. Instead of all the sheets of paper having the same brainstorm topic, they can have different aspects of a topic or different topics altogether.


  1. Pingback: Teaching with a twist | Kate's Crate

  2. Pingback: Twist on a classic: Warmer questions | TESOL TOOLBOX

  3. Pingback: Twist on a classic: Ranking | TESOL TOOLBOX

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s