How to Run an Effective and Engaging Brainstorming Session

brainBrainstorming can effectively generate new ideas from your teens for projects for the year or new solutions to problems. Traditional brainstorming, however, plays to the strengths of extroverts (those willing to speak up during a meeting), only engages one person at a time, and leads to groupthink. This happens because only one idea is proposed at a time, and participants will create new ideas in response to that idea rather than come up with their own ideas or something radically different. Sometimes, ideas also get shot down right after they are proposed, with no time to breathe or consider them in depth.

Quick-as-a-Storm Brainstorming

In this post, you will learn a 3-step methodology for brainstorming that:

  • Guarantees 100% participation
  • Creates a culture of optimism and “How do we make this work?”
  • Generates more specific ideas in less time than traditional brainstorming does
  • Works in all types of groups – whether large or small

Step 1: Setting the stage

What essential question is your team trying to answer? (For example: How can we improve our JSU Clubs? How can we recruit more teens from public high school? How can we make our chapter more welcoming, or more exciting?)

Write that question on a posterboard and place it in front of the room. For a larger group, you can choose several brainstorming questions, then break up the room into smaller groups and allow each group to select which question they are most passionate about. You can even ask them in advance to generate the pool of questions. For example, the room can be divided into 6 sections including Israel Advocacy, Life After High School, Education, Student Leadership, Social Action, and Personal Growth.

PRO TIP: The more focused your question is, the more focused the responses will be. “How can we make our organization better?” will generate much more bland and vague responses than, “How can we improve our educational events?”

Step 2: Writing it Down

Give each participant an index card on which they can write an idea to answer your question (e.g. “We need more relevant educational topics” or “We need more exciting events”). Answers should be as specific and detailed as possible.

After they are done writing, each person will pass their index card to the person on their left, who has 30 seconds to contribute a clarifying question (e.g. How do we find out what is relevant?) and/or a constructive comment (e.g. Here are the topics I would enjoy hearing). At the end of the round, everyone will review their index cards with all the other participants’ feedback and questions.

PRO TIP: Before you begin this activity, emphasize the role that constructive feedback plays in moving ideas forward. Encourage participants to maintain the mindset of “Why can this work?” and the need to let ideas breathe, before coming up with reasons why an idea might fail.

PRO TIP: Since everyone is writing to themselves, people who are usually less comfortable speaking up will still have the opportunity to share their thoughts and feedback.

PRO TIP: This activity also builds a positive group dynamic of collaboration and constructive feedback. Make this point explicit to all participants.

Step 3: Revise and Discuss

Participants should receive their original cards back and read the group’s comments. They should then present their idea to the group along with the relevant feedback. Now, when you have a group discussion about these ideas, every participant has contributed an idea as well as given feedback on everyone else’s ideas. An environment of collaboration and building upon ideas has already been created.

PRO TIP: This also creates a space for participants to practice their public speaking skills.

Alternative Program: Gallery Walk

If you want to keep the essence of this activity the same, but generate even more ideas, then give the participants a pile of index cards (or write on a posterboard) and ask them to generate as many ideas as possible in 2 minutes.

Afterwards, post the results around the room and give everyone post-it notes (green for constructive comments and yellow for clarifying questions) and let them walk around the room commenting on every proposal. This provides more physical activity and a visual element to the program. As a variation, participants can even use stickers to vote for their preferred proposals.

After the time is up, continue from Step 3 above.

PRO TIP: A “gallery walk” just means that you post items around the room (like an art gallery) and allow the participants to view and interact with them. As a methodology, it gets people out of their seats, tends to be visually oriented, and can vary the energy of your program.

If you have any new ideas, comments, or suggestions, let me know at

Marc Fein