When you ask your middle school student to select a topic for a research project or a writing assignment does he tend to have:
1) Too many unrelated ideas?
2) Not a single idea to begin with?
I have one child in each of these camps!
This post contains affiliate links.
As my children are moving through the middle school years I have tried to be mindful of some important life skills and academic skills they should develop as they prepare for high school. Thanks to our new writing program we have been practicing one of these important skills – Brainstorming!
What is Brainstorming?
“A technique used to solve problems and encourage creativity in which members of a group share their ideas about a subject” – Merriam-Webster
Brainstorming is all about generating ideas. Students can use brainstorming as a pre-writing activity, to think of topics for a project or presentation, and as a tool for problem solving.
During the brainstorming process students (individually or as a group) should write down every idea that comes to mind. This is the time for creativity and “out of the box” thinking. It is important to remind students NOT to judge the usefulness of ideas at this point, just get the ideas out and documented.
Tips for Teaching Brainstorming
In my days before homeschooling I worked in Human Resources and Corporate Training. I often facilitated brainstorming sessions with project teams as they worked to find solutions to workplace issues. I’ve used some of the same techniques to help my children learn this important skill:
- Ask one or two key questions to get the brainstorming started. Prompt students to offer responses and input to the question.
- Set a goal – Ask students to come up with a set number of responses in a certain amount of time.
- Remind students that all ideas are good ideas. The crazier the better!
- Have students practice brainstorming individually and with a partner or a group. Help them see the benefits of gathering ideas from many sources – when they listen to other people they will often find ideas very different from their own that will spark even more ideas.
- Use graphic organizer to collect and organize ideas into related groups.
Brainstorming Tools for Students
When the brainstorming responses begin flowing students will need a way to document their ideas. Encourage students to be creative with the documentation process — no need for formal outlines or long explanations during brainstorming!
Students should use shapes, colors, and lines to write down their ideas and then connect/group them together. Offer creative writing tools and graphic organizers to support the brainstorming process.
Here are several helpful tools:
Dry Erase Board and Markers – Write ideas all over the board with colorful markers then draw lines and shapes to connect the ideas.
Popplet – Online tool for the iPad and web to visually capture and organize ideas. Create up to 5 “Popplets” for free.
Bubbl.us – Online tool to create mind maps, export as an image, and share them. Create up to 3 mind maps for free.
Text 2 Mindmap – If your students like a bit more structure, they can create a text outline and have it transformed into visual mind map. Create mind maps for free, additional options for a fee.
Wise Mapping – Create and share mind maps with this free open source software.
Exploratree – Free online library of thinking guides. Print and complete a wide variety of graphic organizers or use the helpful instructions to fill in and save the information on the website.
And the tool that helped us begin our brainstorming activities:
By using several of these brainstorming tools both of my children are now better prepared for their writing projects. They have been able to think of interesting topics AND fine-tune their focus for their writing assignments.
Brainstorming is an effective problem solving skill students will use throughout their lifetime.
Which brainstorming tools does your child find most helpful?