Taboo Brainstorming

Due to a creative schedule we have this year, I have the occasional opportunity to meet with students in different grade levels who are not necessarily identified as Gifted and Talented. When I have a class in K-2 during one of these “enrichment times,” I only have 25 minutes to make an impact. Most of the students in the class have never been in my room before, so lately I have been employing a technique I like to call “Taboo Brainstorming” to elicit some creative thinking in a short period of time.

With Taboo Brainstorming, I give the students a topic and they brainstorm ideas as a class as I record them on the board. Then I deliver the bad news.

“Okay, good job, everyone! Now you can choose a response of your own – but it can’t be any of the ones we just brainstormed.”

I get groans, eyes wide open with disbelief, and a few, “But can’t I just…” which I shut down quickly.

“We don’t have much time, and I know you have even better ideas in those brains that we didn’t get a chance to put on the board. Use one of those!”

The results are always a vast improvement over the average responses I would usually see. For example, the 2nd graders I met with this week brainstormed things they are thankful for that are soft.  Normally, I would get 5 or 6 papers with a pillow or a marshmallow on them, despite my pleas to, “think of something no one else will put on their paper.”  This time, I got papers with such answers as: a foam pit, a cinnamon roll, and a car seat.  None of these students are in my gifted class.  The 1st graders, who had to think of something to be thankful for that started with an “s,” were equally as creative: sesame seed, security, and the movie, The Secret Life of Pets. (By the way, both of these topics were taken from this activity on “Minds in Bloom.)

Now you’ve probably already figured out the down side to this idea.  It’s a “one-off,” unfortunately.  Once you let them know that the ideas on the board are taboo for their independent work, then they are probably going to hold back the next time you try to brainstorm.  No worries.  There are a few other tricks to get some good ideas:

  • Tell them you want them to brainstorm the “bad” ideas first
  • Do a brainstorm relay
  • Try reverse brainstorming
  • Tell them they must choose one of the ideas that wasn’t theirs, and then think of 3 new things it reminds them of on the back of their paper and choose one of those.

Or, don’t use any of these ideas, and think of one of your own 😉

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