Last week I had to lead a variety of teaching moments. I jumped into an 8th grade classroom to help with a project and lead students through a brainstorming……well not brainstorming, but BRAINWRITING activity. It was awesome and one I highly encourage teachers to use.
This activity levels the playing field and keeps extroverts like myself from dominating a brainstorming conversation. Here is the activity straight from the book Cracking Creativity
Richard Feynman, while working at Los Alamos on the first atomic bomb, noted that only one problem was fed into the computer at a time. Instead of thinking of more efficient ways of solving one problem at a time, he thought of ways of processing multiple problems in parallel, spontaneous sequences. He invented a system for sending three problems through the machine simultaneously. He had his team work with colored cards with a different color for each problem. The cards circled the table in a multicolored sequence, small batches occasionally having to pass other batches like impatient golfers playing through. This simple innovation dramatically increased idea production and accelerated the work on the bomb.
- Horst Geschka and his associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, developed a variety of group creative-thinking techniques called Brainwriting which, like Feynman’s innovative problem-solving approach, are designed to process ideas in parallel, spontaneous sequences. In traditional brainstorming groups, people suggest ideas one at a time. This is serial processing of information: i.e., only one idea is offered at a time in a series. Brainwriting, in contrast, allows multiple ideas to be suggested at the same time. This is parallel processing of information: i.e., many ideas produced at once in parallel. If a brainwriting group has 10 members, up to 10 ideas will be generated for every one generated in a typical brainstorming session of 10 members. Brainwriting increases idea production dramatically. The basic guidelines are:
- First, discuss the problem to clarify it. Write the problem in a location visible to all group members.
- Distribute 3×5 index cards to each participant and instruct them to silently write their ideas on the cards, one idea per card. Whereas group brainstorming involves participants shouting ideas out loud, “brainwriting” has people silently writing down ideas.
- As participants complete a card, they pass it silently to the person on the right.
- Tell the group members to read the cards they are passed and to regard them as “stimulation” cards. Write down any new ideas inspired by the “stimulation” cards on blank cards and pass them to the person on their right. Within a few minutes, several idea cards will be rotating around the table.
- After 20-30 minutes, collect all cards and have the group members tape them to a wall. The cards should be arranged into columns according to different categories of ideas, with a title card above each column. Eliminate the duplicates.
- Evaluate the ideas by giving each participant a packet of self-sticking dots and have them place the dots on their preferred ideas. They can allocate the dots in any manner desired, placing them all on one idea, one each on five different ideas, or any other combination.
- Only one person can offer an idea at a time during brainstorming, and despite encouragement to let loose, some people hold back out of inhibition or for fear of ridicule. Brainwriting ensures that the loudest voices don’t prevail, participants feel less pressure from managers and bosses, and ideas can’t be shot down as soon as they are offered. You can design your own “brainwriting” format based on the two principles:
- Idea generation is silent.
- Ideas are created spontaneously in parallel.
You can see the results from watching my teaching(not the best teaching) where I used this method. I had to cut the work time to meet timeline of YouTube, but you can see some of this. I had to cut the actual work process from the video, but you will gain an understanding of how it works. Also, instead of 20-30 minutes we cut things down to about 5-7 minutes because middle school students start to lose focus after 5 minutes. Gauge your classroom accordingly.
After using this activity we had the students work collectively as a class to group their ideas into categories. We had them tape them on the walls. They had to hold discussions and share their ideas to figure out the best placement.
This activity worked really well. I cannot wait to share out with the world the ideas students have not developed. In the meantime, I hope you find this activity helpful.