Tips for Brainstorming in EFL / ESL Lessons


The on line ‘Oxford Dictionaries’ defines ‘brainstorm’ as “A spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems”. This short article is aimed at showing how ‘brainstorming’ can be used in the EFL environment.

So, what should you, as a novice EFL teacher, be aware of as it concerns brainstorming? Here are a few useful tips worth remembering.

Brainstorming is a useful teaching strategy which helps the student to generate ideas based on a given subject: it encourages the student to think of all the ideas related to a given subject – it’s an excellent way to stretch the student’s cognitive skills.

Here’s how you could proceed.  You first suggest a topic for brainstorming – ‘On the Farm’, say.  You now tell the class that they have 5 minutes in which to write down as many words as possible on the given subject. On completion of the 5 minutes, you ask each student in turn to give one word associated with the subject: write the words on the blackboard and continue until all the words have been exhausted. When writing down the words try to keep similar groups of words together, e.g. names of farm animals, farm buildings, farm machinery, etc.

Brainstorming is also useful for essay writing. For example, if you have given your students the essay ‘Is living in the countryside better than living in a city?’, say, you can get the students to give the advantages and disadvantages associated with each life style: the students can also be split up into groups of 3 or 4 students for this purpose.

Brainstorming sessions do not always have to be based on ‘serious’ subjects: they could be fun subjects – chosen for the purpose of making the lessons entertaining and enjoyable. Here are a few fun style brainstorming suggestions that you might like to try: ‘What would it be like if humans had two heads?’, ‘What would life be like if animals could talk?’ ‘What do you think would happen if aliens visited the earth?’ etc.

Lastly, in a brainstorming session, there are no wrong answers – consequently you shouldn’t comment on the value of the ideas: your goal is to get the students to come up with as many ideas as possible. Don’t be afraid to prompt the students if the subject is particularly difficult, and don’t forget to record all the ideas for the benefit of all the students.