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Featured Structure

Illustration of student drawing. Illustration of student drawing.

Jot Thoughts is a terrific way for teams to generate many ideas quickly. Teammates write an idea on a slip of paper, and announce it to the team. The team covers the table with ideas. The ideas can be solutions to a social problem, “How can we end racism?” The ideas can be solutions to a curriculum problem, “What are the many ways to form the number 24?” The ideas can be a list of examples, “What might you find in a rain forest?” The ideas can be representations of a type or category of items, “List as many adjectives as you can.” Often, the goal of brainstorming is to generate ideas from which to choose, “What should be the topic of our team presentation?” The best idea is not always the first idea that comes to mind. Sometimes the best idea is hidden in the depths of the mind, and brainstorming draws forth many ideas from students’ minds onto paper so students may select that one perfect solution.

When Jot Thoughts is used for brainstorming creative ideas, the basic rules of brainstorming apply. The ideas are deliberately as diverse as possible. Students need to think “out of the box.” Funny, silly, and even wacky ideas are encouraged. They may not be the final solution, but they may help lead to it. Students need to suspend judgment on the ideas. Evaluation is the killer of creativity. During Jot Thoughts, neither criticism nor praise of ideas is allowed. The goal is to simply get as many ideas as possible out of students’ heads and onto slips. During brainstorming, students don’t discuss or elaborate on ideas. There is a time for elaboration and evaluation, but that time is after the brainstorming.

Jot Thoughts has some distinct advantages over independent brainstorming. Students with different mindsets, backgrounds, and experiences generate a broader range of ideas. Plus, there is the power of synergy—the interaction of ideas is greater than the sum of independent ideas. Students announce each idea to teammates to unleash synergy. An idea by one teammate may trigger ideas for others. Spreading the ideas out on the table gives students instant access to all the ideas at any point so they can piggyback on an idea or direction.



...generate many possibilities quickly.

...participate in heterogeneous groups that have a broad base of backgrounds and experiences from which to draw.

...build on the ideas of teammates.

...develop creativity.

...learn to generate many possible ideas or solutions.


Getting Ready: The teacher prepares a brainstorming topic. Each student needs a pen and slips of paper.

  1. Step 1
    Teacher Announces Topic
    The teacher announces the brainstorming topic and sets a time limit. “Brainstorm as many team names as you can. You have 3 minutes. First, announce your idea to the team. Second, write the team name on a slip of paper. And third, place the idea faceup on your team table. See if you can cover the table.”

  2. Step 2
    Team Brainstorms
    Teammates simultaneously generate as many ideas as they can in the allotted time. They write each idea on a separate slip of paper, announce the idea to teammates, and place the idea face-up on the team table. They attempt to “cover the table,” rather than stacking the slips.

  3. Step 3
    Team Processes Ideas
    When time’s up, the team processes their brainstormed ideas. There are many ways to process ideas. How students process ideas depends on the goal of the brainstorming task. See What to Do with Ideas below.

Differentiated Instruction
  • Students can draw a symbol of their idea rather than writing it.
  • Students may be assigned a teammate to work with them as a buddy, to help them articulate, or to record their ideas.

Structure Power
  • Organize Ideas. Teams organize ideas using a graphic organizer or a chart.
  • Select Best Idea. Teams pick their best idea among the ideas generated.
  • Prioritize Ideas. Teams sequence ideas by priority.
  • Share Ideas. Teams share ideas with other teams.

A—Z Brainstorming
Have students brainstorm an idea for each letter of the alphabet. Prior to brainstorming, students deal out A–Z Brainstorming Cards to teammates. To brainstorm, they say it, write it, and place it. A–Z Brainstorming can be done also in teams using RoundTable or in pairs using RallyTable, with each student generating the next idea beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. For animals: anteater, bear, cougar, and so on.


  • Model. Select a team, and model the Jot Thoughts process for the class.
  • Suspend Judgment. Tell students not to censor their own ideas, criticize, or evaluate the ideas of others during brainstorming.
  • Suspend Discussion. Students are not to discuss or elaborate on their ideas during the idea-generation phase.
  • Make It Fun. Creativity thrives in a positive learning environment.
  • Color Code Contributions. To encourage participation by all and to promote accountability for contribution by each student, have each student use a different colored pen or marker to record their ideas.
  • Time It. Set a time limit to encourage speed, but don’t make the time limit too short. Suggestion: 3 minutes.
  • Say It, Write It, Place It. For each new idea, students say it first, so they are not writing redundant ideas. Then they write it on a slip of paper and place it on the team table. When introducing Jot Thoughts to students, use the expression, “Say it, write it, place it,” so students know exactly what to do with their ideas.
  • Sorting Mat. After Jot Thoughts, have students sort their ideas on an Idea Sorting Mat.
  • Brainstorming Tips. Display for the class some brainstorming tips. Reinforce the tips for effective brainstorming.
Ideas Across the Curriculum

Students brainstorm...

  • Mammals
  • Possible outcomes of an experiment
  • Hypotheses
  • Vertebrates
  • Constellations
  • Bones/body parts
  • Insects
  • Examples of a law or principle…
  • Similarities between…
  • Objects with a simple machine
Language Arts

Students brainstorm...

  • Characters in a book/play
  • Rhyming words
  • Possible story endings
  • Nouns
  • Adjectives describing a character
  • Possible topic sentences for a paragraph
  • Words that start with “s”
  • Words that have the “ch” sound
  • Proper nouns
  • Story character characteristics
  • Events in the story

Students brainstorm...

  • Word problems for a given equation
  • Ways to build 20
  • Applications of an algorithm
  • Things that are square
  • Symmetrical objects

Students brainstorm...

  • Bands that meet a criterion
  • String instruments
  • Musical professions
  • CDs students own
  • Songs of a certain style
  • Well-known musicians
Social Studies

Students brainstorm...

  • Events in the chapter/unit
  • Historical figures in the era
  • Landforms
  • States
  • Countries
  • Facts about an event
  • Community helpers
  • Facts about a state
  • Examples of change
  • Differences between…
  • How to solve a social issue
  • Campaign ideas
Classbuilding and Teambuilding

Students brainstorm...

  • Cartoons
  • Type of cars
  • Fun free time activities
  • Water sports
  • Qualities of a good friend/teammate
  • Vacation spots
  • Praising words
  • Rainy day activities
  • Favorite movies


59 Kagan Structures

  • 59 step-by-step Kagan Structures
  • Revolutionary teaching strategies to boost engagement
  • Activity ideas across the curriculum
  • Ready-to-use activities and resources

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