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Active Brainstorming

Level: Any Level

This activity can be made to fit nearly any level, and works in class sizes of 6 to 40. The aims are to not only to generate lists of relevant vocabulary around a theme, but to invigorate the class with a rather noisy and rambunctious activity.

To begin with, the teacher must select three or four vocabulary subcategories within a theme, for example with a theme of housing/describing rooms, the subcategories might be things found in a bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen; in a sports theme, there might be team, individual, and non-competitive sports. Students are then paired up and asked to generate ideas together for each subcategory, preferably under a time limit to keep things pacey, much as in any brainstorming exercise. Then pairs should be grouped into 2,3,or 4 larger teams (depending on class size, logistics, etc.) to share/compare ideas and lengthen their lists if possible.

Now comes the wild part. The black/whiteboard is divided into sections, one for each subcategory, and one student from each group is called up and handed a piece of chalk or a marker of a color assigned to each team. There must be one color per team, eg. the blue team, the yellow team, and so forth. The designated writers for each team are not allowed to bring any paper up with them. Instead, their team members must shout out ideas which can be put under each/any subcategory, including the correct spelling of same. With all teams shouting at the same time, a seemingly out of control, but quite enjoyable atmosphere pervades. The object is to be the team with the most words on the board at the end.

It is best to stop every minute or two and change designated writers so that all can get a chance. Also, depending on how strict the teacher wishes to be, groups which use L1 might have their entries ereased. It is also a good idea in big classrooms to move the teams as far away from the board as possible, so as to increase the pandemonium. Finally, the teacher shouts "Stop!", and the scores for each team are tabulated.

This activity will take between 30 and 50 minutes, has been used successfully with groups ranging in age from 16 to 65, and would seem to suit younger learners as well. The only materials required are a rather large board and as many different color markers or pieces of chalk as there are teams.

Submitted by: P. Bruce Riley

Copyright (C) 2001 by The Internet TESL Journal