Brainstorming is an activity that's not new to ELT. It's a superb way to motivate students to work on all four skills, talking (or writing) about real topics and working towards solutions. Well-known ELT professionals, such as Natalie Hess, Rose Senior, Jane Willis and Dave Willis have all written about its strengths as a language learning activity. I've written here and here about the basic rules of brainstorming and how to have a successful brainstorming session. (In addition I can recommend JVC's excellent article, The Step by Step Guide to Brainstorming)
Today I'd like to share with you 9 different formats for brainstorming, each one with its own unique characteristics.
Brainwriting - Participants write ideas on slips of paper, then pass the slips of paper to others who can add comments. Ideal for classes that prefer to discuss through writing.
Brainwalking - Similar to brainwriting, but in this case, students write on large sheets of paper covering the walls. Each sheet of paper has a topic related to your problem, and students can walk around and add comments. This one is highly suitable for kinesthetic students who don't want to spend the whole class sitting down.
Imaginary Brainstorming - Here, you create a problem statement and give a traditional brainstorming session. Then, everyone suggests changes to some of the words to create a new problem statement, ideally one that is off-the-wall and bizarre. Brainstorm again and make a list of solutions. Now apply these solutions to your original problem.
Rawlinson Brainstorming - Unlike most ideas here, this one does not emphasize group interaction. One person presents his or her problem and the ideal situation he or she is looking for. Other group members present their solutions directly to the presenter in two-word phrases. The presenter focuses on the ideas that he or she finds most helpful.
Visual Brainstorming - Group members sketch solutions to a problem. The sketches are used as a springboard for more solutions. This variation will appeal to visual learners, as well as learners with artistic inclinations.
Negative Brainstorming - Participants begin with a problem statement that is the opposite of their goal (ex. How can we go out of business? or How can we make our workplace more depressing?). They brainstorm a number of ideas. Ultimately, they use their ideas as a springboard to more realistic and useful solutions to their actual problem statement.
Didactic Brainstorming - Begin with a question that is an abstract version of your problem statement (ex. What is beauty?). Get participants to discuss for a few minutes, and come up with a variety of answers. Then reveal your true problem statement (ex. How can we improve the appearance of our staff room?). This approach might appeal to more philosophical learners.
Rolestorming - Create a set of roles for a role play that represents a problem statement. Ask students to perform their role plays in groups. Next students will write down any solutions that came to mind as they watched and performed in the role plays.
Value Brainstorming - Ask the group to make a list of primary concerns regarding their problem statement. Then ask them to make a list of some of the hidden values behind these concerns. Participants should rank these values and clarify their meaning. Finally, the group should suggest solutions based on these values.
The Mycoted website has many more creativity exercises that are ideal for the classroom.