PLAs #6 – Brainstorm

by / Wednesday, 13 May 2020 / Published in Instruction, PLAs

Doing a brainstorm should be familiar territory for many faculty. This is a jack-of-all-trades tool that can be used at any time, and is scalable for any length of time, from a single activity, to a way to assess a longer term project. Brainstorming is the emptying of the mind of all ideas around a particular topic or subject. This means some higher order thinking and a lot of interaction between individuals and groups. In the graphic displayed here, this can work in a physical class where students stand in pair work formations, like the starfish or the onion, and this can be easily reproduced through using breakout rooms found in both Zoom and Collaborate Ultra.

There’s a long list of ways to use brainstorming, so here is just a very small sampling:

  • summarizing a chapter reading
  • listing ideas for a project
  • creating class rules for day-to-day classes, teamwork, or any rule that involves multiple people
  • creating self-assessment rubrics
  • making checklists for examining the validity of internet resources

Here’s a sampling of web-based articles on brainstorming detailing many different approaches to it.

Better brainstorming via

19 top brainstorming techniques

How to brainstorm (visualized) from Wikihow


Name: Brainstorm

Activity type: Creative and critical thinking / high student interaction

HOTS: Learners enhance their critical thinking skills by listing as many ideas as they can about a topic, a process, or any variety of things where critical thinking is needed.

Grouping: Best with PAIRS, TRIOS, or CIRCLES of six in an entire class. Try using a breakout room to have them discuss in pairs or extended pairs so that ideas are shared and extended on through multiple conversations. End a session with the entire class voting on the top three to five ideas.

Online tool: Padlet produces a similar result to the “collaborate” tool in Nearpod. A discussion board in BbL could also work if you want to extend the discussion out more.

This is the Top Ten Participatory Learning Activities (PLAs) Series. Each week, Dr. Larry Davies describes PLAs that are effective to use online. Your use of these PLAs will foster better learning and higher motivation in your learners. Each PLA contains an illustration that contains four elements:

  • The name of the activity.
  • Which one of the four types the activity is (that’s the lightbulb), including,
    • Creative/critical thinking activity (inside the lightbulb, top left – the brain);
    • Small group conversational activity (bottom left – the speech bubbles);
    • Exit activity (given at the end of a lesson, unit, or project) (top right – the exit sign);
    • Timed activity (where learners are under pressure to complete it within minutes) (bottom left – the clock).
  • Whether it’s a Higher or Lower Order Thinking Skills Activity (HOTS or LOTS) (the HOTS/LOTS lever with “the pail”).
  • A suggested grouping to maximize the benefit of the activity (the circles arranged in many ways).

Also, the description will contain suggestions for one or more online tools you can use with the PLA.

Previous blogs in this series include:

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