The Internet TESL Journal

A Brainstorming Activity for ESL/EFL Students

Hall Houston
City University of Hong Kong, English Language Centre (Hong Kong, China)
hallhouston ( at )


While brainstorming is a commonplace activity for generating new ideas, many students have not had guided practice. This lesson will enable them to brainstorm more effectively.


1.  Ask the class, "How do artists and businesspeople come up with new ideas?" Give them a couple of minutes to think, then call on a few students to give you their answers.

2.  Tell the class you are going to do an activity called brainstorming. Ask students to raise their hands if they have ever participated in a brainstorming session before, then call on anyone with their hand up to describe their experience.

3.  First, put the students into two groups, Team A and Team B. Assign one student in each group to be a leader. Give the team leaders the following slips:

Team A - Leader:
Your job is to encourage the other students to contribute ideas on how to improve this English class. However, you do not want to waste any time. If a student states an idea which seems useless, tell the student "That’s no good" or "Bad idea", then move on to another student.

Team B - Leader:
Your job is to encourage the other students to contribute ideas on how to improve this English class. Ask one student in the group to write down all ideas. Offer praise for everyone's contributions and don't criticize any of the ideas. Make sure all ideas are written down.

4.  Give students ten minutes to do the brainstorming activity.

5.  Now ask for feedback. Which group produced more ideas? Which group enjoyed the activity more?

6.  Ask both group leaders to read out their slips of paper. Ask the class to guess which one was brainstorming the right way.

7.  Write these rules of successful brainstorming on the board:
8.  Now have the students do the same activity again with the rules on the board, but with a different topic. Some suggested topics are "How to save money" or "How to make friends".

9.  When they are finished, have both groups choose their three best ideas and write them up on the board. Ask a few students how they feel about brainstorming.

10.  Now, tell the class you want to arrange a brainstorming activity for a future lesson. (Note: While it might be tempting to turn this discussion into another brainstorming activity, I would recommend changing the format to add variety to the lesson.)

Give each student an index card and tell them you want them to write the answers to the following questions:
Ask one student to lead the class in a discussion in order to decide on answers to all the questions.

11.  Take notes and mark your calendar for the brainstorming session.

12.  After the students' scheduled brainstorming session, ask for some feedback. What did they like about the brainstorming session? What could have been improved? Would they like to do more brainstorming in a future lesson?


Brainstorming is just one of a wide range of creativity exercises you can use to develop students' thinking skills. If you are interested, you can look into other variations of brainstorming such as rolestorming (students role play different characters to brainstorm), brainwriting (students write down ideas and pass them on to other students who expand on them) and reverse brainstorming (students come up with ideas for producing a problem instead of solving it). Better yet, you might come up with your own twist on brainstorming.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 12, December 2006