Brainstorming uses fluency to generate many ideas, with the intent of generating more flexible and original ideas. The idea that more ideas lead to better ideas is called the fluency principle. Brainstorming is not intended simply to make lists (“How many things can you name that are blue?”), but is appropriate in circumstances where it is necessary to solve a problem or generate new ideas. Brainstorming has four basic rules.
1. Criticism is ruled out. No person is to evaluate any idea until all ideas have been produced. This rule precludes both verbal and nonverbal criticism: no eye rolling, face making, or other signals. Note carefully though: this does not mean that no evaluation of ideas takes place, only that it does not occur “mid-stream” in the generating of ideas.
2. Freewheeling is welcomed. In brainstorming, way-out notions are seen as stepping stones to creative ideas.
3. Quantity is the goal. Quantity is not desired for its own sake, but because a large number of ideas seems more likely than a small number to yield a good idea.
4. Combination and improvement are sought. This rule is sometimes described as hitchhiking. It suggests that many good ideas can be found by building on or combining previous ideas. One friend explained to her class, “This is called teamwork, not ‘stealing ideas’!”
*Key Idea: Brainstorming has a purpose. The purpose is to come up with a good idea–to solve a problem, make a plan, etc. The purpose is not just to come up with many ideas, but to come up with many ideas in order to select one (or more) that is/are promising. In order for students to learn to use brainstorming effectively, they must do it in circumstances in which an idea is required. This is why brainstorming “things that are blue” is not effective brainstorming. Instead, try some of the following.
Students could brainstorm:
In math–topics for a survey to be used to practice statistics
In language arts–strategies a character could use to get out of a situation (either a character being studied or better yet, a character in their own work)
In social studies–options a historical character could have tried before going to war
In science– ways to vary a basic experiment in order to learn more
In art–objects that could be used to apply paint
Whatever the topic, the list of ideas generated is eventually evaluted to select one or more promising possibilities.
- Alternate brainstorming with evaluation, alternating periods of divergent and convergent thinking
- Try brain writing, having individuals working to “brainstorm” on paper, then collecting the total number of ideas
- Use individual brain writing, then group brainstorming
- Try reverse brainstorming, generating ideas for the opposite of what you want/need (obviously this is better with older students and adults who understand the abstraction necessary to make the move back to the desired outcome)
- Use mind maps for visual brainstorming
- Experiment with “brain walking.” Put various ideas/topics on large pieces of paper around the room and have students generate ideas by circulating and adding to each list.