Brainstorming, as originally developed and researched at the Creative Education Foundation at SUNY Buffalo, is a specific set of procedures for a group of individuals to develop ideas and problem-solve. Leading a class through a brainstorming session is an excellent way to demonstrate a variety of issues concerning group dynamics, cognitive processes, and creativity. Any topic in the course also can be explored through brainstorming, especially controversial topics: In addition, the brainstorming session can help the teacher and class explore important questions concerning any aspect of the course itself:

Steps in the Brainstorming Procedure

As the teacher, you will be acting as the "facilitator" of the brainstorming session. The trick is to create the right structure for the process to work, but not to overcontrol it. Here are the traditional steps in the brainstorming procedure:

1. Preparation
Briefly discuss the question or issue for the brainstorming session before the actual session. Give the students a few days to think about and "sleep on it" (this stimulates the process of "incubation").

2. Fact-Finding
On the day of the actual brainstorming session, start off by clearly defining the problem, question, or issue to be "solved." The question should not be too broad or ambiguous. Write the proposed question at the top of the chalk board. Discuss any relevant information concerning the question, which will provide additional fuel for the students' imagination (for example, for the questions posed above, everyone should understand the characteristics of a sociopath, or recall exactly what the previous exams for the course were like).

3. Warm-up
Warm up with an easy, perhaps fun question for a short, practice brainstorming session. It can be anything and doesn't have to be related to the proposed question. "How can we prevent the geese from pooping on the campus lawn?"

4. Idea-Finding
This stage begins the actual brainstorming to the proposed question. Encourage the students to throw out ideas and suggestions as you write them down on the chalk board. Anyone at anytime can speak. Write down onto the chalk board the following rules for this stage:

5. Solution-Finding
At a point that feels right (or when you're running low on time), stop the Idea-Finding phase and announce that you are now moving into the last phase. Now the ideas on the board are examined and evaluated critically. What solution or idea makes sense and what doesn't? Are some too simple or two complex? What is practical/feasible and what isn't? What would be the results and consequences of each solution or idea? Gradually narrow the list down by crossing off or erasing ideas. Try to arrive at the few very best solutions/ideas.

6. Implementation
If the brainstorming session was designed to produce an idea that could be put into action (e.g., ways to improve the exams), then try it out and see if it works. Devote some class time to discussing the results.

back to the In-Class Exercises page
back to the Teaching Clinical Psychology home page