Do you teach brainstorming techniques? When you use digital mind-mapping tools, do you miss the immediacy of pen on paper? When you use pen and paper, do you miss the fluidity of data based mind-mapping tools? Do you want students to get more practice writing and to be more effective at collaboration? Why not get the best of both worlds? Try card-storming (my moniker). This may not be the most original idea in the world, but it has some benefits. What does it involve? Start with a laminated piece of paper (preferably a3 or larger), pens, stickies, white board markers and a digital camera of some kind (mobile phone or laptop would do) for each brain-storming group. If you have budget constraints or don't like stickies, you could use small squares of regular paper with glue tack for an adhesive to replace the stickies. How is it done?
  1. Number your stickies to identify them-- perhaps use an alpha-numeric code so that each card has a unique identifier.
  2. Brain-storm your items or ideas by writing one on each card.
  3. Place your cards on the laminated paper for a base.
  4. Use white board markers to draw on the base-- connect ideas, categorize and identify commonalities, differences or other relationships.
  5. Re-arrange cards as necessary for various types of order, erase comments and lines on the base where needed.
  6. Ideas on cards can be expanded by attaching more cards.
  7. Take pictures at important intervals, capturing a history of the evolution of ideas.
  8. Attach the cards to each other to form a pile so that the ideas may be kept and re-used for future brain-storming sessions on the topic.
What are the benefits? This method of brainstorming gives the direct interface of pen on paper, providing fast, ready access to anyone involved in the session. As with mind-mapping programs, your idea nodes (cards) are mobile. Ideas can be ordered by priority, alphabet, category, history, number and just about any other possible relationship-- like data in a spreadsheet. Thoughts can be expanded, color coded and joined using different charting methods. These manipulations can all be done while elements of the mind-map are adjusted to fit as part of the whole. A permanent record of the group's work can be kept through photos-- allowing simple distribution and publication of the documents. All group members as well as the instructor can have a share in the information for reference and assessment purposes. Paper is saved, work-flow is effective-- give card-storming a try!


Thanks to the participants of the Writing and Publishing workshop for feedback on this method. Modifications and options: -Small whiteboards could be used in place of the laminated sheets. There was some discussion about environmental impact of the plastic laminant. Honestly, both seem pretty close in a race for carbon footprint, but whiteboards could certainly have some advantages in some respects. -In a small group, adding a code or number to every card for a brainstorm can be difficult or at least tedious: a) Codes could be written on cards after they have been placed on the whiteboard to simplify the process. b) In some cases, codes may not be entirely useful and could be omitted. Unfortunately, if brainstorming is started without them, the opportunity is lost if the codes seem necessary later in the process.