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Strategy Bites: Brainstorming

Students talking together

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 Strategy: Brainstorming

Brainstorming involves students generating ideas in response to a specific prompt. Be sure to set a time limit for this activity. Afterward, you might want to do a whole-class debrief for a broader sharing of ideas.

Why use this strategy?

If you’ve ever had to solve a problem, you’ve probably participated in a brainstorming session. I can confidently say I have brainstormed solutions in many different contexts – with others in classes, workshops, meetings and even on my own. If done effectively, this strategy can generate lots of actionable ideas.

In my experience, brainstorming works best in small groups. Why? First off, having a large number of students shouting responses at once is likely not an effective way to pull out meaningful responses. It can be disorganized and easily get out of control. Additionally, as one of the quieter students in a classroom, having the confidence to voluntarily share my ideas in front of everyone has always seemed particularly daunting. Having to be more aggressive about it in order to be heard, even worse. A smaller, more intimate group offers a more welcoming environment for everybody, allowing each voice to be heard.

What I like best about brainstorming is that there is no wrong answer. It encourages people to think freely and critically, be creative and use their personal experience to present their unique ideas. It also encourages collaboration, creating a positive working atmosphere. Students can become invested in this activity because they feel like they are involved in finding a solution to the problem. Most importantly, every idea, and therefore every student, is valuable to the learning experience.

Would you like to know more?

  • Brainstorming can be done in a variety of ways. Read about 5 brainstorming techniques that can help students get started with writing papers.

Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:


Jasmine Parent is an M.Sc. Graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Education Technology Program at UBC and she works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at TLS. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga and spending time in nature.

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