All methods of instruction can be classified as telling, lecturing, or discussing; showing or demonstrating; or any combination of these. Often the best method of teaching combines the various methods. You must decide which methods to combine and the emphasis to place on each unless the curriculum itself dictates the combination needed. In making that decision, consider (1) the nature of the trainees, (2) the subject matter, and (3) the limitations of time.


The lecture is still the most frequently used method of instruction. However, presenting a lecture without pausing for interaction with trainees can be ineffective regardless of your skill as a speaker. The use of pauses during the lecture for direct oral questioning creates interaction between instructor and trainee. Unfortunately, when classes are large, the instructor cannot possibly interact with all trainees on each point. The learning effectiveness of the lecture method has been questioned because of the lack of interaction; but it continues as a means of reaching large group at one time with a condensed, organized body of information. Providing trainees with lesson objectives before the lecture will enable them to listen more effectively. It will help them to take concise, brief notes concerning the objectives rather than writing feverishly through- out the lecture. We discuss the lecture method first because the techniques involved serve as the basis for other methods of training. Those techniques apply not only to lectures, but to many other kinds of presentations in which oral explanations play a secondary, but important, role. Every method depends on oral instruction to give information, to arouse attention and interest, and to develop receptive attitudes on the part of the trainees. Therefore, as an instructor, organize your oral presentations with the following techniques in mind:

1. Maintain good eye contact. As you speak, shift your gaze about the class, pausing momentarily to meet the gaze of each trainee. Make the trainees feel what you have to say is directed to each one personally. Your eyes as well as your voice communicate to them; and their eyes, facial expressions, and reactions communicate to you. Watch for indications of doubt, misunderstanding, a desire to participate, fatigue, or a lack of interest. If you are dealing with young trainees, you may sometimes need to remind them that they must give undivided attention to the instruction.

2. Maintain a high degree of enthusiasm.

3. Speak in a natural, conversational voice.Enunciate your words clearly. Make certain the trainees can hear every spoken word.

4. Emphasize important points by the use ofgestures, repetition, and variation in voice inflection.

5. Check trainee comprehension carefullythroughout the presentation by watching the faces of the trainees and by questioning. Observing facial expressions as an indication of doubt or misunderstanding is not a sure way of checking on trainee comprehension. Some trainees may appear to be comprehending the subject matter when, in reality, they are completely confused. Trainees who are in doubt often hesitate to make their difficulty known. They may hesitate because of natural timidity, fear of being classified as stupid, or failure to understand the subject matter well enough to explain where their difficulty lies. Frequently ask if the class has any questions, thus giving the trainees an opportunity to express any doubts or misunderstandings on their part. Based on your personal knowledge and past experiences, ask specific questions about those areas which might give trainees the most trouble. Some instructors make the mistake of waiting until the end of the presentation to ask questions. The best time to clear away mental fog is when the fog develops. Mental fog tends to create a mental block that prevents the trainee from concentrating on the subject matter being presented. (Later in this chapter we discuss techniques related to asking questions, calling upon trainees to answer questions, and evaluating answers.)

6. Instruct on the class level. Use words,explanations, visual illustrations, questions, and the like, directed to the needs of the average trainee in the class.

7. Stimulate trainees to think. Think, as used here, refers to creative thinking rather than to a mere recall of facts previously learned. Use a number of instructional devices for stimulating trainee thinking. Among those devices are thought-provoking questions, class discussions, problem situations, challenging statements and rhetorical questions (a question to which noanswer is expected). Another device is the use of suggestions, such as “I want you to think along with me,” and “Consider your reaction to this situation.”

Pros of Lecture as a Teaching Method:

  • Lectures are a straightforward way to impart knowledge to students quickly.
  • Instructors also have a greater control over what is being taught in the classroom because they are the sole source of information.
  • Students who are auditory learners find that lectures appeal to their learning style.
  • Logistically, a lecture is often easier to create than other methods of instruction.
  • Lecture is a method familiar to most teachers because it was typically the way they were taught.
  • Because most college courses are lecture-based, students gain experience in this predominant instructional delivery method.

Cons of Lecture as a Teaching Method:

  • Students strong in learning styles other than auditory learning will have a harder time being engaged by lectures.
  • Students who are weak in note-taking skills will have trouble understanding what they should remember from lectures.
  • Students can find lectures boring causing them to lose interest.
  • Students may not feel that they are able to ask questions as they arise during lectures.
  • Teachers may not get a real feel for how much students are understanding because there is not that much opportunity for exchanges during lectures.

Final Thoughts :

Lectures are one tool in a teacher's arsenal of teaching methods. Just as with all the other tools, it should only be used when most appropriate. Instruction should be varied from day to day to help reach the most students possible. Teachers should be cautioned that before heading into numerous classes full of nothing but lectures, they need to provide their students with note taking skills. Only by helping students understand verbal clues and learn methods of organizing and taking notes will they truly help them become successful and get the most out of lectures.

Suggested Reading


In many higher education institutions, including the usual pattern of teaching is still largely based on an individual lecturer bearing responsibility for students in a course module or unit, possibly supported by part-time staff tutors. At some levels of learning though, for example in postgraduate seminars, this model is replaced by a team teaching approach which involves a number of lecturers (usually between two and five) and possibly non-teaching professional support staff as well. To carry out effective team teaching requires a re-orientation on the part of individual staff members and departmental administrators.

What is Team Teaching?
In team teaching a group of teachers, working together, plan, conduct, and evaluate the learning activities for the same group of students. In practice, team teaching has many different formats but in general it is a means of organising staff into groups to enhance teaching. Teams generally comprise staff members who may represent different areas of subject expertise but who share the same group of students and a common planning period to prepare for the teaching. To facilitate this process a common teaching space is desirable. However, to be effective team teaching requires much more than just a common meeting time and space.

(i) Why Should I Use Team Teaching?

In view of the additional complexity which team teaching initiatives introduce into departmental organisation and in view of the time needed for staff to adapt to the new structures, it is relevant to ask what benefits accrue from team teaching. How, for instance, does team teaching benefit lecturers, part-time tutors, students, and departments as a whole?
  • For Lecturers, who so often work alone, team teaching provides a supportive environment that overcomes the isolation of working in self-contained or departmentalized class-rooms. Being exposed to the subject expertise of colleagues, to open critique, to different styles of planning and organisation, as well as methods of class presentation, teachers can develop their approaches to teaching and acquire a greater depth of understanding of the subject matter of the unit or module.
  • Part-time staff can be drawn more closely into the department as members of teams than is usually the case, with a resulting increase in integration of course objectives and approaches to teaching.
  • Team teaching can lead to better student performance in terms of greater independence and assuming responsibility for learning. Exposure to views and skills of more than one teacher can develop a more mature understanding of knowledge often being problematic rather than right or wrong. Learning can become more active and involved. Students could eventually make an input into team planning.
  • Team teaching aids the professional and interpersonal dynamics of departments leading to closer integration of staff.
In the following extract, the authors describe the instructional advantages of working in teams.

"Team Teaching: An Alternative to Lecture Fatigue"

Team teaching is an approach which involves true team work between two qualified instructors who, together, make presentations to an audience. The instructional advantages of team teaching include:
(1) Lecture-style instruction is eliminated in favour of a dynamic interplay of two minds and personalities. Lectures require students to act as passive receptors of communicated information, but team teaching involves the student in the physical and mental stimulation created by viewing two individuals at work. . . .
(2) Teaching staff act as role models for discussion and disagreement.
Teaching staff members demonstrate modes of behaving in a disagreement as well as exposing students to the course content.
(3) Team teaching makes effective use of existing human resources.
Acquisition of additional expensive resources or equipment is not required to implement this method: only reorganisation is required to put the team into operation.
(4) Team teaching has the potential for revitalizing instructional capabilities through a process of dialogue.
Team teaching begins with the recognition that the instructor/student link is critical and offers an approach that has been shown to stimulate and provoke, while expanding and enriching student understanding.
(5) Interest in traditional courses can be stimulated as students share the enthusiasm and intellectual discourse that the lecturers communicate.
Team teaching is not boring. Students are drawn into the situation from the first moment.
(6) The effective use of facilities is possible.
The impersonal nature of large lecture halls can be brought to life by an interactive and dynamic situation.
(7) Team teaching provides opportunities for interaction with the audience.


Implementing a team teaching approach requires administrative encouragement, acceptance of an initial experimental quality, and willingness to take risks. Proof that team teaching works comes not only from the instructors’ self-judgment, but from students’ evaluations. Above all, team teaching cannot be accomplished by administrative fiat — but administrators need to encourage it.

Adapted from: Quinn, S. and Kanter, S. (1984) "Team Teaching: An Alternative to Lecture Fatigue", Innovation Abstracts, Volume 6, No. 34, Eric Document: ED 251 159.

(ii) Is There Only One Way To Team Teach?

In its fullest sense, team teaching is where a group of lecturers works together to plan, conduct, and evaluate the learning activities of the same group of students. However, it would be a mistake to think that team teaching is always practised in the same way. Its format needs to be adapted to the requirements of the teaching situation. Some possible options are where:
  • two or more teachers teach the same group at the same time;
  • team members meet to share ideas and resources but generally function independently;
  • teams of teachers share a common resource centre;
  • a team shares a common group of students, shares planning for instruction but team members teach different sub-groups within the whole group;
  • certain instructional activities may be planned for the whole team by one individual, for example planning and developing research seminars;
  • planning is shared, but teachers each teach their own specialism or their own skills area to the whole group;
  • teams plan and develop teaching resource materials for a large group of students but may or may not teach them in a classroom situation.

Planning to Implement Team Teaching

Planning, conducting and evaluating team teaching are all important activities. Some of the most important aspects of planning which need to consider in advance of implementing teams are the concerns of staff; the selection of team members; and setting realistic goals for any teaching team in the first instance.

(i) Understanding Staff Concerns
Like any other change or innovation in a department, team teaching will raise concerns among staff members. The full range of concerns will only become clear over time after initial worries are dealt with and team members become comfortable with the innovation. A basic premise of team teaching is that its adoption is not something that happens at one point in time — it extends over time. As users go through the adoption process there will be changes in their concerns.
From a team perspective, the ultimate aim will be to have individual team members reach a stage where they accept joint responsibility for the basic instruction of a group of students. There will be concerns, however, the relevant literature suggests that one way of dealing with these concerns is to recognise that they seem to follow a time cycle. Early concerns usually appear to be procedural e.g., determining roles, setting agendas, keeping records, setting procedures for communicating with outside people, and scheduling teamwork, etc. Next to appear are student-related concerns such as meeting students’ needs, planning to deal with individual students, etc. These are followed by concern among team members for their own professional growth and finally there is concern for the collective well being of the team. This last level is reached when teams are seen as (i) a means of professional self development, (ii) a forum at which ideas about instruction and coordinating curriculum can be shared, and (iii) when students are involved in decision making.
Here are some common concerns about team teaching along with suggestions of what to do to improve the likelihood of overcoming them. The first three of these concerns are usually expressed before the team actually begins functioning while the last is usually expressed after it has functioned for a time.

I do not know enough about team teaching.
Explain the concept of team organisation and the rationale for implementing it. This should include an explanation of how it is envisaged that team teaching will fit with the rest of the departmental programme. Staff need to have a clear idea of the kinds of teaching teams envisaged, what their responsibilities will be and how much of their time will be occupied in teaching in this way.

How will I manage my teaching in the light of the proposed change?
Supplying information usually leads teachers to express personal concerns. Take these concerns seriously. If you do not they become potential barriers to effective implementation. Personal concerns usually expressed about team teaching include:
  • not all team members will contribute equally;
  • teachers do not understand how to make the team work;
  • there will be personality conflicts to deal with in addition to the teaching itself;
  • a preference for working alone;
  • all the work will fall on the team leader/senior subject expert;
  • it will be too difficult to cover all the course content;
  • team meetings will be a waste of time.
All in all, concerns usually revolve about inter-personal problems — issues of self doubt, team management and group processes in addition to whether the teaching carried out by this method will be worthwhile.

How is the team going to be managed?
Management questions are concerned with who will be on the team, who will lead it, what will be expected and in what timeframe, how meetings will be conducted, how teaching activities and events will actually be planned, and so on. These should be dealt with as early as possible and not in a casual manner, so that everyone is clear about what their roles and responsibilities will be. As well, once the team begins to function, more routine issues will surface: staff may be bothered by the amount of time involved, the difficulty of keeping track of students, coordinating materials and the work of other team members.
Concern may arise and have to be dealt with while the team is actually functioning or at the time of periodic course reviews. Rather than a single concern, it may be more useful to see it as a category of concerns that focus on the consequences of team actions.
It would be most unusual for the team to find that everything has proceeded as they planned. More usually, they find that there are outcomes as a result of team teaching which they had not anticipated. These outcomes may be to do with student learning or with how the team is functioning. If there are differences between what was planned and what the students are achieving then the team will need to refocus on what is important. To do this the team will have to monitor continually how students are reacting to the team teaching experience. Conscious decisions will have to be taken to emphasise points that may have been missed or correct mistaken impressions. However, concerns may arise apart from those related to student learning. There may be a need for the team to deal with issues of collaboration among its own members. In the same way that the goals associated with student learning need to be monitored and reviewed where necessary, so too do aspects of team behaviour. In both these examples it is apparent that regular meetings of the team need to take place where constructive, professional reflection is encouraged which is itself a team teaching strength.

(ii) Selecting Team Members

The composition of any teaching team is a matter which must be considered carefully if that particular team is going to function effectively. While it is possible that teams can be arbitrarily formed it is far more fruitful if they come together in response to needs and interests. Thought needs to be given to selecting team members and defining team roles and these decisions need to be evaluated periodically. The following questions are indicative of the sorts of issues which should be considered:
  • on what basis should team members be selected?
Team members should not be clones of each other. Why? Because differences in subject expertise, interests, perspectives, back-grounds, and qualification levels, can contribute to the collective strength of a team and the growth of individual team members. Furthermore, the ‘mix’ of personalities and characteristics add to the experience the students get from interacting with the team.
  • What is the role of the team leader?
Basically the team leader will be concerned with (i) internal functioning — setting agendas, keeping records, coordinating schedules ensuring the team ‘stays on task’ i.e. that it achieves what it sets out to achieve; and (ii) external functioning — communicating with department heads to ensure that the team is resourced, supported, and meeting departmental goals/expectations, etc.
  • What is the role of team members?
Team members need to contribute to the team in ways other than simply turning up for classes and meetings. It is essential that all team members contribute to formulating and achieving team goals. To do this, each member must take responsibility for participating in team discussions and planning session and following through on decisions made by the team within the timeframes decided by the team. It is only in this way that a spirit of co-operation and collaboration can be maintained.
(iii) Setting Realistic Team Goals
Teams need to have a sense of direction. One finding from the relevant literature of particular interest relates to the time required to develop an effective level of team teaching. When teams are formed from teachers with no previous team experience, it seems to take about three years for them to develop the team teaching process to an efficient and effective level. Hence in setting a time line for teams to achieve realistic goals it is important to ask what will be the aims of team teaching during the first year or semester and what are the longer term goals? The answers to such questions are important in determining priorities for the development of teams. It is unrealistic to expect that all goals and expectations will be met immediately. Rather it is better to consider what it is reasonable to undertake as teachers and to expect from students and at what stage?

The Team in Action

(i) Planning for Teaching

Assume that it has been decided that team teaching will go ahead in your department and that you have agreed and been selected to be a member of a team. Assume also that the issues surrounding teams discussed earlier have been attended to and the team is now ready to begin work. Decisions facing yourself and your teaching partners now will focus undoubtedly on planning teaching/learning activities.
You may ask, for instance, in what way will the team use small and large group contexts or independent study? Will it use a large group in an auditorium setting to introduce a topic or convey basic information and background material which all the students need to know? Will the team decide to use a single teacher to make the presentation or will several teachers be used? Will small group discussions relate to large group presentations, or demonstrate skills, or develop a seminar discussion group etc? What of independent study? It is not always taken into consideration but it provides a student or group of students with the opportunity to research or explore a topic of special interest in greater depth outside the formal teaching situation. How will the team use independent study?
This short list of questions underlines the decisions to be made in this area.
  • What are the programme, unit, and lesson objectives?
  • What lesson content is to be presented and in what order?
  • Which content is to be presented by large group presentation?
  • Which methods and resources are to be used to present the content?
  • Who will make large group presentations?
  • What will be discussed during small group meetings?
  • How will small groups be organized?
  • Who will be assigned to each small group?
  • What types of independent study will be appropriate?
  • What blocks of time will be assigned to large-group, small group and independent study activities?
  • How will students be assessed?
All of these questions are to do with ongoing interaction with students. A little later the team will have to consider questions such as:
  • How can the activities be improved?
  • What specific problems have arisen with particular groups of students and how can they be solved?
Irrespective of who asks these questions, they are very realistic and they need to be answered, but the critical issue is who by and how.

(ii) Assigning Roles and Responsibilities

Effective teams are systematic in their division of labour, not forgetting that roles may be rotated on a regular basis. In allocating roles, strengths and weaknesses of individual team members need to be taken into account. A brief questionnaire gathering an idea of these strengths and weaknesses might be a good idea before a draft list of responsibilities for the team is discussed.

(iii) Catering for Students

While team teachers and their students are usually happy with the community spirit that teams can provide, teamwork also has a considerable effect on classroom management. For example, by planning together, team teachers can clarify teaching policies and behavioural expectations that are applied to students. Difficult management situations can be analyzed and resolved together resulting in richer discussions and sounder solutions. Teams of teachers can think of ways of improving student motivation, a sense of responsibility, and overall student performance.

(iv) Conducting Meetings

Team teaching is group work and as such teams need to develop as functioning groups. In dealing with other team members teamwork is seldom without conflict — professional or personal points of view may clash. Blending differences constructively is a challenge to all team members. To do this it is important to acknowledge team members’ strengths, interests, personal and professional goals both in assigning responsibilities and in the conduct of meetings.

Running meetings
For a team to function effectively the team meetings need to run well. They need to clarify expectations for how the team will operate, i.e. clarify management issues and set ground rules for meetings such as:
  • how will items get on the agenda?
  • what should be recorded in the minutes?
  • who will do the recording?
  • how will decisions be reached?
  • how should communication with other teams and members of the department be managed?
  • how will a team calendar/schedule be compiled?

Making decisions
The main problem encountered in meetings which prevents decisions from being made effectively and efficiently is the difficulty of keeping all team members on task. The team leader needs to ensure that:
  • problems are defined clearly;
  • there is time for brainstorming alternatives for action;
  • each alternative is subject to critique
  • a plan of action is selected, implemented and subsequently evaluated

(v) Evaluating Progress

In a small team, a formal evaluation of progress often seems inappropriate. However, all teams need to set aside some time to evaluate their progress in terms of both teaching the module and with their own development as an effective team. An outside facilitator could be called in to manage this where appropriate. Some questions which might be asked in the context of such an evaluation are:
  • are the goals set for the team’s work realistic?
  • have the goals been achieved? to what extent?
  • do all team members participate equally in team decisions?
  • have decisions been carried out?
  • are responsibilities shared among team members?
  • do students benefit from the team’s work?
  • what areas need more attention?

(vi) Maintaining Continuity From Year to Year

In order to ensure the continuity of the module/course when it is presented a second and subsequent times the team needs to maintain clear documentation of the course including:
  • the course outline or syllabus;
  • weekly timetables;
  • teachers’ notes for each unit;
  • students’ notes;
  • teaching materials/written bulletins;
  • copies of tests and examinations;
  • final course evaluations;
  • student evaluations.
Carefully maintaining these course documents will ease the task of the course leaders, facilitate the induction of new teachers into the team, and simplify the task of revising the course/module in a rational manner.


Teams take a variety of forms in different contexts, however, successful team teaching must go beyond sharing a group of students and scheduling a common meeting time if it is to make positive contributions to the quality of learning and staff development.
Effective team teaching takes time to develop to its fullest potential. Staff who are unfamiliar with it need time to work through the basic issues and routine matters before they can turn their attention fully to issues which affect students and to the impact which their teaching has on the department as a whole. This is time well spent because team teaching can be a valuable source of personal and professional development for those who engage in it. It can also be a source of considerable frustration if its goals are unrealistic, meetings are not productive and decision making is not well handled by team leaders.
These pitfalls and others can be avoided or at least not encountered more than once if adequate staff development support is available and the relative complexity of demands which team teaching places on people is recognized both by the individuals themselves and their departmental leaders.

Pitfalls to Avoid

1.  Failing to recognize that team organization is fundamentally different from traditional
departmentalized or self-contained arrangements.
Team teaching is much more than an alternative scheduling format. It will lead to new, more professional relationships between teachers, their students, and administrators. Everyone involved needs to be prepared for changes of this kind.
2.  Attempting to form a team without adequate staff development in such things as team
skills (communications, group decision making, and organization of effective meetings) and
team practices (goal setting, record keeping, evaluation).
Sometimes it is assumed falsely that because teachers talk a great deal in the course of their work that they do not need assistance with communication skills when they are thrust together as teams. Skills in working successfully with small groups are also essential.
3.  Failing to understand that new teams will need time and practice in order to develop
into fully functioning teams.
Several years are needed for teams to pass through the various stages of development — even more true if team members change and new members are acquired along the way. Teams will probably not spend a lot of time on student concerns until the members have developed norms and procedures to govern how they will conduct their meetings and make decisions. A timeline for a reasonable growth plan should be constructed.
4.  Failing to establish and maintain links between the team and departmental administrators
 who can provide support for the team’s activities.
If there are several teams in a department they will need a co-ordinator to whom they are accountable. The team may monitor its own internal functioning but it also needs to be seen to be functioning in the wider departmental context.
5.  Overloading modules. Because of input from several team members, there may be far too
much material and too many activities in a module.
This danger is considerable among teachers who are unaccustomed to team teaching. The team members need adopt a policy of closely monitoring the amount of course material and assessment required of students and to set limits of what can be included in teaching the module.
6.  A tendency to under-estimate the amount of time needed to produce high-quality teaching
 resource materials.
Almost certainly the team should seek the guidance of someone who has had experience in developing teaching resources and who can provide not only technical advice but indications of a realistic schedule for such activities.

A Checklist of Things to do

The following represents a ‘checklist’ of things to do to ensure the operation of an efficiently functioning team. It may be that team members need to establish the exact priority, however, each is important and needs to be catered for if the team is to operate smoothly and achieve the goals it sets.
  • meet regularly
  • schedule students’ learning activities
  • set consistent expectations for team members
  • rotate roles and responsibilities of team members
  • develop a team teaching guidelines booklet
  • share major curriculum ideas with other team members
  • develop a process for recognising students who are doing well
  • develop a process for recognising students who are falling behind
  • schedule class tests and assessment
  • determine which academic and personal skills students need to develop and make a point of addressing these in class
  • use community resources in teaching
  • develop a database of teaching resources relevant to the unit
  • determine which activities can be best carried out in a large group setting, which in small group settings and implement them
  • decide on consistent expectations of students
  • discuss problematic students with the team
  • discuss educational philosophy with team members
  • conduct team meetings with students
  • share curriculum plans with an educational advisor
  • attempt better co-ordination of lessons
  • share ideas off other team members
  • develop agenda for team meetings
  • work on building team identity
  • develop teaching resources as a team
  • share successful teaching experiences with team members
  • foster staff development among team members
  • participate in a conference as a team
  • hold a team-led departmental seminar
  • devise a way of evaluating the team’s performance
  • devise a programme for the induction of new staff members to team teaching.


Brainstorming is a group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem. In 1953 the method was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in a book called Applied Imagination. Osborn proposed that groups could double their creative output with brainstorming.[1]
Although brainstorming has become a popular group technique, researchers have not found evidence of its effectiveness for enhancing either quantity or quality of ideas generated. Because of such problems as distraction, social loafing, evaluation apprehension, and production blocking, brainstorming groups are little more effective than other types of groups, and they are actually less effective than individuals working independently.[2][3][4] In the Encyclopedia of Creativity, Tudor Rickards, in his entry on brainstorming, summarizes its controversies and indicates the dangers of conflating productivity in group work with quantity of ideas.[5]
Although traditional brainstorming does not increase the productivity of groups (as measured by the number of ideas generated), it may still provide benefits, such as boosting morale, enhancing work enjoyment, and improving team work. Thus, numerous attempts have been made to improve brainstorming or use more effective variations of the basic technique.

"Brain storming is a technique used to gather a large quantity of ideas. The ideas generated are geared towards solving a specific problem. There are different brainstorming techniques which have been used. They are however, often group creativity techniques, whereby a group of individuals join together so as to find a solution to a specific problem. Brainstorming has grown scrupulously beneficial to various purposes since its mainly known introduction in the end of 1930s. The book entitled Applied Imagination by Alex Faickney Osborn, emphasized on the effectiveness on creativity which is derived from group work. Brainstorming is a commonly used tool amidst academic, researchers and business teams. Nevertheless, the effectiveness has hardly been proven through results. There are clear evidences derived from in-depth scrutinized research proving the contrary; group working has its negative aspects such as social loafing, distraction, anxiety, coordination problems. It has even been assumed that people working in groups tend to be less productive than those who work independently. The Encyclopedia of Creativity has its section describing the controversy of brainstorming by Tudor Rickards. The impact of brainstorming on the productivity in generating ideas is not certified as being certitude. There are, however, some direct psychological benefits derived from brainstorming such as motivation derived from work enjoyment, job satisfaction, boost of moral and improved team working environment. The traditional brainstorming technique is constantly being innovated and evolves to remove inefficiencies present in brainstorming techniques. The use of brainstorming is becoming and exceedingly common technique to gather ideas for both academic and business purposes. The group approach used in brainstorming has several varied benefits such as improving relationship amidst colleagues and participants. Advanced models of brainstorming that have and are being developed are geared towards bring even further benefits in the productiveness in the process of gathering ideas."

Ground Rules

There are four basic rules in brainstorming.[1] These are intended to reduce social inhibitions among groups members, stimulate idea generation, and increase overall creativity of the group.
  1. Focus on quantity: This rule is a means of enhancing divergent production, aiming to facilitate problem solving through the maxim, quantity breeds quality. The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.
  2. Withhold criticism: In brainstorming, criticism of ideas generated should be put 'on hold'. Instead, participants should focus on extending or adding to ideas, reserving criticism for a later 'critical stage' of the process. By suspending judgment, participants will feel free to generate unusual ideas.
  3. Welcome unusual ideas: To get a good and long list of ideas, unusual ideas are welcomed. They can be generated by looking from new perspectives and suspending assumptions. These new ways of thinking may provide better solutions.
  4. Combine and improve ideas: Good ideas may be combined to form a single better good idea, as suggested by the slogan "1+1=3". It is believed to stimulate the building of ideas by a process of association.

Diagram of a brainstorming session
Diagram of a brainstorming session

Set the problem

Before a brainstorming session, it is critical to define the problem. The problem must be clear, not too big, and captured in a specific question such as "What service for mobile phones is not available now, but needed?". If the problem is too big, the facilitator should break it into smaller components, each with its own question.

Create a background memo

The background memo is the invitation and informational letter for the participants, containing the session name, problem, time, date, and place. The problem is described in the form of a question, and some example ideas are given.The memo is sent to the participants well in advance, so that they can think about the problem beforehand.

Select participants

The facilitator composes the brainstorming panel, consisting of the participants and an idea collector. A group of 10 or fewer members is generally more productive. Many variations are possible but the following composition is suggested.
  • Several core members of the project who have proved themselves.
  • Several guests from outside the project, with affinity to the problem.
  • One idea collector who records the suggested ideas.

Create a list of lead questions

During the brainstorm session the creativity may decrease. At this moment, the facilitator should stimulate creativity by suggesting a lead question to answer, such as Can we combine these ideas? or How about looking from another perspective?. It is best to prepare a list of such leads before the session begins.

Session conduct

The facilitator leads the brainstorming session and ensures that ground rules are followed. The steps in a typical session are:
  1. A warm-up session, to expose novice participants to the criticism-free environment. A simple problem is brainstormed, for example What should be the CEO retirement present? or What can be improved in Microsoft Windows?.
  2. The facilitator presents the problem and gives a further explanation if needed.
  3. The facilitator asks the brainstorming group for their ideas.
  4. If no ideas are forthcoming, the facilitator suggests a lead to encourage creativity.
  5. All participants present their ideas, and the idea collector records them.
  6. To ensure clarity, participants may elaborate on their ideas.
  7. When time is up, the facilitator organizes the ideas based on the topic goal and encourages discussion.
  8. Ideas are categorized.
  9. The whole list is reviewed to ensure that everyone understands the ideas.
  10. Duplicate ideas and obviously infeasible solutions are removed.
  11. The facilitator thanks all participants and gives each a token of appreciation.
Process of conducting a brainstorming session
Process of conducting a brainstorming session

The process

  • Participants who have ideas but were unable to present them are encouraged to write down the ideas and present them later.
  • The idea collector should number the ideas, so that the chairperson can use the number to encourage an idea generation goal, for example: We have 44 ideas now, let’s get it to 50!.
  • The idea collector should repeat the idea in the words he or she has written verbatim, to confirm that it expresses the meaning intended by the originator.
  • When more participants are having ideas, the one with the most associated idea should have priority. This to encourage elaboration on previous ideas.
  • During a brainstorming session, managers and other superiors may be discouraged from attending, since it may inhibit and reduce the effect of the four basic rules, especially the generation of unusual ideas.


Brainstorming is not just about generating ideas for others to evaluate and select. Usually the group itself will, in its final stage, evaluate the ideas and select one as the solution to the problem proposed to the group.
  • The solution should not require resources or skills the members of the group do not have or cannot acquire.
  • If acquiring additional resources or skills is necessary, that needs to be the first part of the solution.
  • There must be a way to measure progress and success.
  • The steps to carry out the solution must be clear to all, and amenable to being assigned to the members so that each will have an important role.
  • There must be a common decision making process to enable a coordinated effort to proceed, and to reassign tasks as the project unfolds.
  • There should be evaluations at milestones to decide whether the group is on track toward a final solution.
  • There should be incentives to participation so that participants maintain their efforts.


Nominal group technique

The nominal group technique is a type of brainstorming that encourages all participants to have an equal say in the process. It is also used to generate a ranked list of ideas.
Participants are asked to write their ideas anonymously. Then the moderator collects the ideas and each is voted on by the group. The vote can be as simple as a show of hands in favor of a given idea. This process is called distillation.
After distillation, the top ranked ideas may be sent back to the group or to subgroups for further brainstorming. For example, one group may work on the color required in a product. Another group may work on the size, and so forth. Each group will come back to the whole group for ranking the listed ideas. Sometimes ideas that were previously dropped may be brought forward again once the group has re-evaluated the ideas.
It is important that the facilitator be trained in this process before attempting to facilitate this technique. The group should be primed and encouraged to embrace the process. Like all team efforts, it may take a few practice sessions to train the team in the method before tackling the important ideas.

Group passing technique

Each person in a circular group writes down one idea, and then passes the piece of paper to the next person in a clockwise direction, who adds some thoughts. This continues until everybody gets his or her original piece of paper back. By this time, it is likely that the group will have extensively elaborated on each idea.
The group may also create an "Idea Book" and post a distribution list or routing slip to the front of the book. On the first page is a description of the problem. The first person to receive the book lists his or her ideas and then routes the book to the next person on the distribution list. The second person can log new ideas or add to the ideas of the previous person. This continues until the distribution list is exhausted. A follow-up "read out" meeting is then held to discuss the ideas logged in the book. This technique takes longer, but it allows individuals time to think deeply about the problem.

Team idea mapping method

This method of brainstorming works by the method of association. It may improve collaboration and increase the quantity of ideas, and is designed so that all attendees participate and no ideas are rejected.
The process begins with a well-defined topic. Each participant brainstorms individually, then all the ideas are merged onto one large idea map. During this consolidation phase, participants may discover a common understanding of the issues as they share the meanings behind their ideas. During this sharing, new ideas may arise by the association, and they are added to the map as well. Once all the ideas are captured, the group can prioritize and/or take action.

Electronic brainstorming

Electronic brainstorming is a computerized version of the manual brainwriting technique. It can be done via email and may be browser based, or use peer-to-peer software.
The facilitator sends the question out to group members, and they contribute independently by sending their ideas back to the facilitator. The facilitator then compiles a list of ideas and sends it back to the group for further feedback. Electronic brainstorming eliminates many of the problems of standard brainstorming, such as production blocking and evaluation apprehension. An additional advantage of this method is that all ideas can be archived electronically in their original form, and then retrieved later for further thought and discussion. Electronic brainstorming also enables much larger groups to brainstorm on a topic than would normally be productive in a traditional brainstorming session.
Other brainstorming techniques are web-based, and allow contributors to post their comments anonymously through the use of avatars. This technique also allows users to log on over an extended time period, typically one or two weeks, to allow participants some "soak time" before posting their ideas and feedback. This technique has been used particularly in the field of new product development, but can be applied in any number of areas where collecting and evaluating ideas would be useful. Professor Olivier Toubia of Columbia University has conducted extensive research in the field of idea generation and has concluded that incentives are extremely valuable within the brainstorming context.[6]

Directed brainstorming

Directed brainstorming is a variation of electronic brainstorming (described above). It can be done manually or with computers. Directed brainstorming works when the solution space (that is, the criteria for evaluating a good idea) is known prior to the session. If known, that criteria can be used to intentionally constrain the ideation process.
In directed brainstorming, each participant is given one sheet of paper (or electronic form) and told the brainstorming question. They are asked to produce one response and stop, then all of the papers (or forms) are randomly swapped among the participants. The participants are asked to look at the idea they received and to create a new idea that improves on that idea based on the initial criteria. The forms are then swapped again and respondents are asked to improve upon the ideas, and the process is repeated for three or more rounds.
In the laboratory, directed brainstorming has been found to almost triple the productivity of groups over electronic brainstorming.[7]

Individual brainstorming

"Individual Brainstorming" is the use of brainstorming on a solitary basis. It typically includes such techniques as free writing, free speaking, word association, and the "spider web," which is a visual note taking technique in which a people diagram their thoughts. Individual brainstorming is a useful method in creative writing and has been shown to be superior to traditional group brainstorming.[8]

Question Brainstorming

This process involves brainstorming the questions, rather than trying to come up with immediate answers and short term solutions. This technique stimulates creativity and promotes everyone's participation because no one has to come up with answers. The answers to the questions form the framework for constructing future action plans. Once the list of questions is set, it may be necessary to prioritize them to reach to the best solution in an orderly way.[9] Another of the problems for brainstorming can be to find the best evaluation methods for a problem.
Brainstorming all the questions also has been called questorming.[10]


Brainstorming is a popular method of group interaction in both educational and business settings. Although it does not provide a measurable advantage in creative output, brainstorming is an enjoyable exercise that is typically well received by participants. Newer variations of brainstorming seek to overcome barriers like production blocking and may well prove superior to the original technique. How well these newer methods work, and whether or not they should be classified as brainstorming, are questions that require further research.

Controversy over term

Some governmental organisations (The Welsh Development Agency and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Belfast) have reached the conclusion that the term 'brainstorming' is offensive to people with epilepsy[11] (see political correctness) and have suggested the alternative "thought-showers". However, research by the National Society for Epilepsy found of those affected by epilepsy questioned, 93% considered the term inoffensive. A specific comment states that changes need not be made since that could promote an undesirable image of epileptics being easily offended[11].

See also