Brainstorms are free-flowing idea/concept capture. They are the least structured in our examples of activating prior knowledge. For instance, with a brainstorm, you're generally just asking learners to write as many ideas or words as they can think of that relate to a given topic.

Brainstorms can give learners an uncomplicated (although busy), broad view. They're not particularly sophisticated, but can be a good affirmation for learners that yes, they do know related things for this topic, if not exactly how those concepts fit or operate. For this reason, they can be a great option for more novice learners.


  • A brainstorm is not a concept map. Concept maps focus on structure and relationships. Brainstorms are more often about generating a range of ideas or related concepts, they are unstructured, the important thing is surfacing concepts. So, try to encourage learners not to worry to much about where things fit.

  • Use the hint field of a task to give learners prompts to help them generate more and more ideas.

  • You could use a range of task types for this:
    - File upload: Take a picture/scan of a drawn brainstorm
    - Video: Present and explain a brainstorm (sharing screen or with drawn brainstorm)
    - Image shading: Blank white image or part-filled framework that learners can draw on


  • Try making it a restricted brainstorming (restrictions can lead to greater creativity). For instance, ABC Brainstorming where learners need to come up with a concept/word that connects the the topic somehow for specific letters of the alphabet.

  • Have learners create a brainstorm at the beginning and end of a topic, then when they've learned more a concept map. That way they can compare unstructured and structured as well as what they've learned.

  • Create areas for your brainstorm for instance: Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

  • Give learners a brainstorm with "mistakes" in it and ask learners to identify what doesn't fit and/or describe what needs to change.

  • Have a brainstorm for a related, but different topic and compare how they are similar/different.

Make it social

  • Have learners co-create a brainstorm. This could be face-to-face, in a video conference or using a collaborative tool like Mindmeister or Google drawings.

  • Have learners share or their brainstorm.

  • Get learners to share brainstorms and look at things like: In what ways are they similar/different? Is there concepts or connections they forgot they knew that they can add now?

  • Give learners a pulse to poll them on whether concepts would fit in a brainstorm for this topic or wouldn't.

Concept maps are just one way of activating prior knowledge, be sure to check out the rest of the articles in this set.

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