Brainstorming: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Brainstorming is typically thought of as a large group activity or an individual activity where one person records ideas shared orally, or records ideas on a piece of paper. Both of these methods can seem boring and over-used. Brainstorming can be creative, fun, and can be used for a variety of different types of learners. It doesn’t have to be only seen as an office setting technique.

Here are some ways you can use brainstorming that goes beyond the traditional model of brainstorming in your library:

  • Sticky Note Brainstorming: Participants can anonymously write their ideas on sticky notes [1]. Students can write one idea on each note, and the librarian can display them on the wall. When going over the ideas, the librarian can also move and group each sticky note based on topics or a structure relevant to the discussion. This idea can be very useful for shy kids, or students who do not learn best by oral speaking. Students may feel inspired to fill up the wall, and may share more ideas with their sticky notes than they would sharing out loud.
  • Sub Group Brainstorming: Brainstorming in a small group may give participants more time to speak, especially if you have a large group [1]. Each group can generate a list of ideas they come up with, and then share as a large group. Those who normally do not participate in class can only share their ideas with a small number of people. Or they can have extra opportunities to participate by either being the recorder of the group, or the speaker to the larger group.

Both of these ideas still fit into the brainstorming technique, but can be appealing to students. You could even use the technique for students to create a library game, a race, or come up with new ideas for a library club.


[1]. Education World. (2014). Variations on brainstorming. Retrieved from:


Incorporating Brainstorming in the Library Media Center

Brainstorming can be applied in multiple ways beyond typical classroom implementation. Here are some creative ideas to incorporate brainstorming in your library media center:

Research Projects: 

Scenario: A third grade class is starting a research project on animals. As a young student, it may be difficult to know where to start. The librarian can introduce the students to search by keywords and provide an introduction to effective keyword searches. After the lesson, the librarian can conduct a brainstorming session. The students can brainstorm keywords and search terms they may use to research their animal (Examples : habitat, diet, endangered species, mammal, etc.) Through the students’ brainstorming session, the librarian can assess how well the students grasped the concept of keywords and students can generate a peer-constructed list to use as they begin their research.

Incorporate Web 2.0 Tools: One way to incorporate brainstorming is through the integration of Web 2.0 tools. Here is a list of a variety of Web 2.0 tools that allow students to brainstorm and organize their thoughts in an online format. While many of these tools utilize formats such as mind mapping, a librarian can  incorporate these tools to brainstorming sessions in the library, as well as teach and promote digital literacy skills.

Additionally, if high school students are working on a group project, students can utilize Web 2.0 tools, or google docs, to brainstorm ideas.To keep it a true brainstorming session, the librarian can emphasize that all ideas are shared, students can connect other ideas and build off one another, but cannot delete another student’s comment or criticize it. It will also give students who do not like talking in a large group a way to share their ideas in writing.

Brainstorming is far from an outdated activity. It can be done in small groups, individually, or as a class activity. Librarians should utilize technology, Web 2.0 tools and promote digital citizenship by encouraging students to brainstorm in a variety of ways.

Brainstorming: Controversy and Education

As I mentioned in my previous post, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding brainstorming. In 2012, Jonah Lehrer wrote an article for The New Yorker titled “Groupthink: the brainstorming myth.” You can find the article here. Larger criticisms of brainstorming include:

  • Brainstorming does not allow room for debate. Conversations and challenges around ideas can sometimes lead to more engagement in an idea. [1]
  • When brainstorming is always with the same group of people, there can be repeat material or a “group-think” mentality. [1]
  • Brainstorming is seen as a “feel good way to boost productivity.” [2]

While these points are valid, I will “defend” brainstorming, and show why this technique is essential for education:

  • “Brainstorming is designed for idea volume, not depth or quality” [3] This is also an essential idea for using brainstorming in education. While there are other types of thinking tools that could drive more quality or depth of ideas, the purpose of brainstorming is to allow a free flow discussion of ideas, which is essential in education. Sometimes, education is all about the test, the right answer, and there are students who rarely speak up. Brainstorming can be an effective tool to allow creativity, open-mindedness and allow all students a chance to share their ideas. When participation is encouraged from all students, when ideas are not analyzed on effectiveness, students are able to show creativity and imagination. Brainstorming gives them a space to try new ideas.
  • One criticism from Lehrer’s article, is that people will walk away with a “feel good” attitude about their productivity. My question: is that so bad? Especially when children are brainstorming, is it so wrong for them to feel heard and that someone values their idea?

Brainstorming allows students to share their ideas, without fear of failure. I can see so many ways to incorporate brainstorming techniques within the library specifically, which I will talk about next time.

[1]. Lehrer, J. (2012). Groupthink: the brainstorming myth. The New Yorker. Retrieved from:

[2]. Jana, R. (2012). Why brainstorming doesn’t work–and what does. Smart Planet. Retrieved from:

[3]. Berkun, S. (2012). In defense of brainstorming. Retrieved from: