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:


During the next few weeks, I will be discussing the technique “brainstorming” and how it can be used in a library environment.

The approach to brainstorming was developed by Alex Osborn in 1958 with his book Applied Imagination. [1] Many people are familiar with the term “brainstorming” and it is widely used. However, it is vital to fully understand brainstorming and how to use it effectively.  The process of brainstorming, is informal, that is meant to share ideas from a range of ideas, reaching all the way from the conventional to the outrageous. It’s important during this process for participants not to judge, criticize or analyze ideas.

How to Brainstorm: [2]

1.  Present the problem or question. This can be orally or through writing (on a whiteboard, chart paper, etc.)

2. Encourage participation from every group member, in no particular order. Have participants suggest as many ideas as possible, keeping wording to single words or short phrases.

3. Until the brainstorming session is over, no one may comment or elaborate on previously said ideas.

4. Record ideas; sometimes the most creative and outrageous ideas provide the most interesting responses.

5. Once the session is complete, prioritize, analyze, problem solve or discuss possible ideas.

Some important tips while brainstorming: Don’t follow one train thought for too long, encourage practical and impractical ideas to allow for creative flow of thought, and make sure to engage all people involved.

What’s important to note, is that brainstorming is not just a group of individuals discussing ideas, it is not group decision making, there should be no group leader, and it should be a free flow of ideas.

Brainstorming can be an important strategy as it allows for all students to participate and overthrows the “group dynamic”. Since students are not able to elaborate or criticize in these initial stages, all students may feel free to share an idea without feeling criticized and those who dominate group work, need to only share in a short phrase, to allow others to participate.

In recent years, there has been controversy if brainstorming is really effective. I will be addressing this controversy and sharing ideas of how to incorporate successful brainstorming in the library in upcoming posts.

Works Cited:

[1]. Mind Tools. (2014). Brainstorming: generating many radical, creative ideas. Retrieved from:

[2]. Human Rights Resource Center, University of Minnesota. (2000). The human rights education handbook: effective practices for learning, action, and change. Retrieved from:

Bloom’s Taxonomy: Applying and Analyzing

Making our way up the hierarchy, the next two levels are “applying” and “analyzing.”  In the applying stage, some learning objectives include: ” apply concepts and principles to new situations, apply laws and theories to practical situations, solve mathematical problems, construct graphs and charts, demonstrate the correct usage of a method or procedure.” [1] Some ways to assess student work would be through activities such as making a timeline, constructing a model, conducting an interview or draw a diagram, etc. [2]. One way to address “applying” would be through  your learning objectives that are similar to “students will be able to “demonstrate______.” An example would be: students will be able to demonstrate their knowledge of tectonic plates through their clay dioramas. 

Students in the library do a lot of analysis, as well. Some objectives at this stage would be: “recognize unstated assumptions, recognizes logical fallacies in reasoning, distinguish between facts and inferences, evaluate the relevancy of data, analyze the organizational structure of a work (art, music, writing)”. [1] Some activities that fall under analysis would be if students were to develop a questionnaire, research a problem, develop a mind map, or develop an outline of a process [3]. Many activities in the library fall under this analysis category. Many times students are researching a problem or topic, and developing an outline in conjunction with their research. Analyzing the information they receive can fall under many information literacy skill lessons in the library.

The lower order skills are important for students to build before they can start applying and analyzing. To be able to do this, students must take their knowledge and understanding of the information they learned, to be able to create products to demonstrate and show what they’ve learned.

What lessons, ideas or experiences can you think of that would be successful to use when addressing applying and analyzing in Bloom’s Taxonomy?

[1] Teaching Effectiveness Program. (2013). Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels. Retrieved from:

[2]. Mclain, C. (2004). Application: applying rules, concepts, principles, and theories in new situations. School Center District. Retrieved from:

[3] Mclain, C. (2004). Analysis: breaking down information into parts. School Center District. Retrieved from:


Bloom’s Taxonomy continued

As mentioned in the previous post, Bloom’s taxonomy highlights the hierarchy of skills needed for students to reach their highest potential and development. What is important to acknowledge about Bloom’s taxonomy, is that all categories are needed for student development. The taxonomy creates a well rounded student, developing basic and higher order thinking skills. So how can educators develop all skills of the taxonomy?

One way for educators to incorporate and focus on Bloom’s taxonomy is through assessment. Here are some specific ways using two of the lower level categories:

Remembering: This category can be assessed in terms of Question & Answer, memorization, listing and being able to reproduce information. [1] Although there can be negative associations with assessments focused on memorization, as this is not considered “higher order” thinking, students can still be assessed in this category in creative ways. Examples are games like jeopardy or matching games. Assessment can be creative and effective, especially in subjects such as history or mathematics.

Understanding: Students can showcase their learning through summaries, or graphic organizers. [2] Using a graphic organizer can be a great way to assess student understanding by having them record in their own words, through guided instruction, what they’ve understood.

Just with two of the categories, it’s easy to see how Bloom’s taxonomy can apply to how educators can teach and use these principles in their assessment. While assessment tools like multiple choice exams and memorization can have negative associations and be over-relied upon, there are creative ways to assess these lower level skills in students. It’s important to remember the foundation of these skills, but the way you assess these skills can have creativity and be engaging for students.

As I discuss more about Benjamin Bloom, higher order assessment and benefits will be addressed as well.

1. University of Central Florida. (2014). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved from:

2. Illinois Online Network. (2014). Assessing Learning Objectives Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved from:


When students first start to begin to learn about researching, the idea of citing sources can be a complex topic. There are many rules, concepts and specific ways to cite information. One way to combat this frustration, is by introducing students at a young age of how, when and why you need to cite information. This mnemonic device is meant to give students a brief overview and background information on the concept of citation. One good way to teach young students is through the use of a mnemonic device to help students remember something, and introduce a new concept. While the librarian will want to instruct students on the specifics of citation, it can help students become familiar with the need to cite sources and information as they begin to delve into researching.

I came up with a mnemonic device, meant for students in second or third grade, who are just beginning to learn about the research process. This can be used with younger or older students as well, but it is meant to introduce students to citation and be displayed in the library for students to remember when and why they need to cite their information.

When you research, remember to CITE:

Credit other people’s work

Ideas that are not your own

Telling someone else’s story, quotes or words

Examples, evidence and facts