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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Brainstorming Activities for Group Discussion

Hall Houston

Hall Houston has been teaching ESL for over a decade. His first book, The Creative Classroom, was published in 2006 by Lynx Publishing ( He is currently a full-time English Instructor at the English Centre at City University of Hong Kong. His book should be published later this fall under the title: The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages outside the Box.


Problem, solution, presentation
Six questions
Passing notes
Discussion from four perspectives
Discussion with sentence starters


The following activities were extra material from my book The Creative Classroom (Lynx Publishing – These activities encourage students to share ideas about world issues or social problems.

Problem, solution, presentation

Time: 2 class periods (1st class 20-30 minutes; 2nd class 1 hour 30 minutes)
Materials: blackboard, chalk, a lot of index cards, pens

1. Choose a world issue you think the class would enjoy exploring. Write a phrase or a question that summarizes the issue on the board.
2. Give each student 10 index cards, and tell them to write down any facts they know about the issue. They should write each fact on a separate card. Collect the cards after 10 minutes. 3. Repeat step 2, but now ask students to write down some solutions.
4. Collect the cards and keep them separate from the first set of cards.
5. Assign students to read up on the subject for homework. You can give them a list of readings (book excerpts, magazine articles, websites).
6. In the next class period, give each student a few “fact” cards from the previous class. Each student should only take cards written by other students. If someone has one of their own cards, he or she should exchange it for another card.
7. Put students in pairs, and have them read over the cards. Give each pair 5 index cards and tell them to add at least 3 more “fact” cards. Collect the cards.
8. Repeat step 7 with the “solution” cards.
9. Divide the groups into 2 teams. Give each group a stack of cards, either “fact” or “solution”. They have 40 minutes to plan a presentation of the issue and its solutions.
10. After 20 minutes, the teams switch stacks of cards.
11. Students present the issue and solutions for the class.

Variation: You can ask students to compete for the best presentation and get some colleagues to act as judges.

Note: This activity is based on two Japanese methods of brainstorming in groups, KJ and NHK.

Six questions

Time: 45 minutes

1. Before class, write the following on the board:

1. What information do we know about this?
2. How do we feel about this issue?
3. What opinions do we have about this?
4. What have we personally experienced that relates to this?
5. What are some problems related to this issue?
6. What can be done to solve this problem?

2. Create a list of 10 to 12 words that relates to a topic or an issue you want students to discuss.
3. At the beginning of class, tell the students you are going to read out a list of words, and they need to guess the issue that it relates to. Read it once fast, then read it again slower. Allow time for guesses.
4. When they have guessed correctly, write the issue up on the board next to the questions.
5. Instruct students to move the desks into pairs, and leave a big space in the middle of the classroom.
6. Students now get into pairs, roll a die on the teacher’s desk, then sit down in desks to discuss the corresponding question. After 2 or 3 minutes, they should go to the center of the room, find new partners, then repeat the activity. If either student rolls the number of a question he or she discussed the previous turn, he or she should roll again. Tell them to stop when they have discussed 5 of the questions.
7. Now read out the questions and call on students to give answers for each one.

Passing notes

Materials: index cards, paper, pens, boxes
Time: 30 minutes

1. Write a world issue up on the board.
2. Put students in groups of 5 or 6. Ask each group to make notes related to the problem on their index cards while you play some music. They should write down anything that comes to mind (facts, opinions, statistics, feelings, etc.), but only put 1 idea down per card. Give them about 10 minutes to write.
3. Pass a box around the room. Tell the students to put their cards into the box and pass it on to the next group.
4. Tell each group to pull out 2 cards from the box and read them aloud. Their task is to combine the notes on the 2 cards to make a solution for the issue. They should repeat this 4 or 5 times. One student in each group should take notes of their ideas.
5. Bring the class together for a discussion of the best ideas.

Acknowledgement: This activity was inspired by Pass the Hat, an exercise in Doug Hall’s book Jump Start Your Brain.

Discussion from four perspectives

Materials: tape recorder, cassette, paper, pens
Time: 45 minutes

1. Prepare a recording of a friend or colleague talking about a current world issue. He or she should describe the problem, relay the basic facts, talk about his or her opinion, and suggest a few solutions.
2. In class, play the recording three times.
3. Put students into four groups, each with an equal number of students. The first group will put together a summary of the main points. The second will write down any questions they had about the listening. The third group will provide a list of key words from the listening exercise. The fourth group will discuss their thoughts and feelings about the contents of the listening.
4. Give each group 15 minutes to complete their task.
5. Form new groups of 4. Each group should contain 1 member from each of the original four groups.
6. Give them another 15 minutes to discuss the work they did in the other groups.
7. Ask one member of each group to summarize their group’s discussion.

Discussion with sentence starters

Materials: blackboard, chalk, ball
Time: 20-30 minutes

1. Write the following sentence starters on board before class:

In my opinion, the problem is…
One word I would use to describe this problem is…
To solve this problem, we need a lot of…
I feel this problem is…
One obstacle preventing this problem being solved is…
Someone who might be able to solve this problem is…

2. In the first few minutes of class, ask students to close their eyes and think of a serious problem in their society or in the world. Call on a few students to suggest ideas, then get everyone to vote for a problem to work on.
3. Read the sentence starters on the board out, and ask students to think of possible answers.
4. Get everyone to stand up, and form a circle.
5. Students now take turns reading a sentence starter, then tossing a ball to another student, who must finish the sentence.
6. Repeat step 5 until every student has spoken at least once.
7. Now ask the students to return to their desks and complete the sentences individually in writing.
8. Round things off with a discussion of the problem based on their sentences.


Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Humanising Large Classes course at Pilgrims website.

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