Peers quickly generate multiple responses to a focus question, concept or key vocabulary word provided by the teacher and then the teacher encourages student sharing of a variety of responses.

What It Is

Brainstorm is an oral language support strategy that allows students to generate multiple responses through oral interaction with a peer. It increases student awareness of a variety of responses to a question and provides for flexibility along with peer modeling.

How It Works

After the teacher asks a question, or presents a concept or key vocabulary word, students take a minute or so to share each other’s responses. Student can simply share or move to questioning the ideas generated by a partner.

Students are expected to share with the rest of the group what they said or discussed, or what their partner said. The sharing of a variety of responses is important to establish modeling of other students thinking and understandings, to sort out the quality of different responses without value judgment, and to develop flexibility in responding by all students.

Considerations for Use

Several classroom routines need to be set in place to facilitate the use of the Brainstorm strategy:

  1. Decide on which children would pair effectively and assign partners. Students can come to the whole or small group experience with their pre-selected partner. In this strategy, it is helpful to match students by both talk alike abilities and at times consider content or vocabulary knowledge.

  2. Set up a signal for the timing of the response.

  3. Rehearse how to share multiple ideas and answers as well as questioning a

    partner for more information.

  4. Observe the pairs, and look at what they are sharing and who understands the concept.

  5. Sharing out after the partner work is essential to model multiple responses and encourage flexibility.

  6. Clarify or add information about the concept or key vocabulary, and summarize content information after the sharing.

  7. Be willing to change partners based on observations as well as normal events such as the absence of one member of a pair. Another reason to change partners would be that one partner overwhelms a peer.

Why It Works

When classroom participation structures are used, they foster oral language development with peer talk. The Brainstorm participation structure gives students opportunities to hear multiple responses, build content knowledge, and question a peer for clarification. This sharing of multiple responses is a scaffold for peers to hear how other students respond in a range of academic language models. It also provides a degree of classroom management but the key goal is oral language development with peer-supported talk.



When this structure is used, almost all students have a opportunity to share concepts and a range of vocabulary then a chance to share their thinking through a quick response in a low-risk setting. Verbalizing a range of responses scaffolds student’s content understanding, concept development and academic vocabulary including familiar synonyms. It provides talk at a peer level with the option to go back to speaker and ask for clarification. By listening to a range of responses, students often incorporate a more academic speech register that then moves into their social speech in peer interaction.

Things To Keep In Mind

This participation structure is reasonably easy to establish and use in the full range of settings in classroom instruction in all content areas. The Brainstorm provides for a sharing of ideas through social speech of peers and should become part of the regular classroom procedures.

Observing during the times students are engaged in both the brainstorming and discussion in the peer talk is an excellent opportunity to notice which students are talking, how the pair is working, and quickly assess the learning about the content that is being discussed. This is a time to model questioning and clarification at the partner level during the observations.

Download the Brainstorm Overview

This is a downloadable PDF version of the contents on this page.

Brainstorm Overview