Faculty Development & Learning Assessment



This brainstorming technique can create an active learning environment in small and large courses.

Purpose(s): To brainstorm ideas about a given topic in a way that gets students actively involved. Roundtable can be used for review and recall, for predictions, for practicing a skill, or for idea-generation. It reinforces the value of teamwork.

Steps: Students in a small group (3-5 in number) respond in turn to a question or problem by writing their ideas on a single sheet of paper that circulates rapidly among them. As they write, students say the idea out loud because: a.) Silence in a setting like this is boring, rather than golden; b.) Other team members need to be reflecting on the proffered thoughts; c.) Variety results because teammates learn immediately that someone has come up with an idea they can’t repeat; and d.) Hearing the responses said aloud means that students do not have to waste valuable brainstorming time by reading the previous ideas on the page. Team members ideally should not skip turns, but if their thoughts are at a standstill, it is better to say “Pass” rather than to turn the brainstorm into a brain drizzle. To encourage more equal participation, the “Pass” option can be limited to one round. As the paper circulates clockwise, or to the students’ left-hand sides, team members record ideas as rapidly as possible, resulting in the quick generation of a number of ideas. As with other brainstorming activities, students should not slow the flow of creative ideas by stopping to explain, question, or evaluate.

Variations: Rather than circulate a blank sheet of paper, students can circulate a sheet containing “prompts” or a diagram, (e.g., In an architecture class, the paper contains three subheadings: “Doric, Ionic, Corinthian” and students in turn add the distinguishing elements of these types of Greek architecture.) Several rounds can occur: in a biology class, for example, students identify the components of the respiratory system and then in another round, add their functions.

Assessment and follow-on: You can determine how well students understand concepts by collecting the Roundtables and reviewing them. Roundtables usually form the basis for later discussions, projects, or assignments.

Examples from various disciplines: Government: describe the various international roles played by the United Nations; Art: identify the defining characteristics of impressionistic painting; Medicine or Psychology: list the various symptoms of schizophrenia, AIDS, or co-dependency; History: summarize the most important events of 1918 or any other significant year; Engineering: provide examples of well-known engineering trusses.

Adapted from: Millis, Barbara, The Teaching & Learning Center, The University of Texas at San Antonio. Retrieved January 15, 2009, from University of Texas San Antonio Web site: http://www.utsa.edu/tlc