Model and Scaffold Brainstorming with Pear Deck

 Illustration by Kate Moore

Illustration by Kate Moore

Whether it’s a writing assignment for ELA or designing an experiment for science, helping students brainstorm ideas and develop an inquiry-based project can be a challenge. Modeling these behaviors without doing the work for them can be a balancing act. And of course, there’s the challenge of differentiation; because if we know anything to be true, it’s that not everyone ideates in the same way.

Some students think better with quiet. Meanwhile, other students are most creative when they’re able to verbalize their thoughts and bounce ideas off another person. Some think best under pressure; others with plenty of time to process their ideas. Some students are naturally skilled at letting their ideas flow, while for others it can be like pulling teeth.

When you need to get all 35 of your uniquely creative students brainstorming at once, try using Pear Deck to lead them through the process.

Step 1: What we know

Slide 1: Text slide

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Use a broad, simple prompt like the example on the slide: “List all the things you know about ________.” Using the 1:00 minute timer, let students respond individually with as many ideas as they can think of in the allotted time.

When the minute is up, project the responses. Consider highlighting a few exemplary ideas, or simply project them all. Usually seeing some of their peers’ thoughts will shake loose a few more ideas.

Use the 1:00 minute timer again and let students take another pass generating more ideas.

When this minute is up, project the answers again. Consider highlighting a few exemplary ideas and discussing their merits.

Step 2: What we don’t know

Slide 2: Text Slide

Using the responses from Slide 1 use the following format:

We know ______ about _____, but what we don’t know is ______.

Make sure students understand that the unknown should be directly related to the “known” statement. For example: “What we know about butterflies is that they have wings, but what we don’t know is how many wings they have.”

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Toggle to Student-Paced Mode so students can flip back to their answers on Slide 1.

Let students respond individually for 1–3 minutes.

You can also project Slide 1 answers and allow students to create “don’t know” statements for peers’ ideas as well.

Step 3: Turn it into inquiry

Slide 3: Text Slide

Too often, we stop the lesson after idea generation and launch students into research or creation mode. But there’s a vital step that comes after idea generation and before research: inquiry.

Using the “unknown” statements generated on slide 2, have students generate a list of questions about the subject matter.

Statement: What we know about butterflies is that they have wings, but what we don’t know is how many wings they have.

Question: How many wings does a butterfly have?

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Practice a few of these together as a group, or consider working through the whole list together the first few times you try this exercise. Eventually you can allow students to complete the inquiry exercise in pairs or individually.

What you’ll find in this step is that creating the simple question “How many wings does a butterfly have?” will likely lead to a string of other questions which is exactly what you want to happen! These questions can be used to direct student research, develop interview skills, formulate an experiment and more. You can always adjust the pacing with longer or shorter timers, or flip the whole thing to Student-Paced Mode once your class has gotten the hang of the process.

This week’s post was written by Teacher Advocate Risa Bennett