Brainstorming before Speaking Tasks
Brainstorming is an activity used to generate ideas in small groups. The purpose is to generate as many ideas as possible within a specified time-period. These ideas are not evaluated until the end and a wide range of ideas is often produced. Each idea produced does not need to be usable. Instead, initial ideas can be viewed as a starting point for more workable ideas. The principle of brainstorming is that you need lots of ideas to get good ideas.
Good Learners Organize Information About Language
Good learners try to organize their knowledge. As teachers, we can try to facilitate this organization by using suitable warm-up activities. A warm-up activity can remind our students of existing knowledge. At the same time, it can direct their minds towards ideas that they will meet in the main activity. In this way, it provides a link between new and existing knowledge.
However, each learner has a different store of existing knowledge organized in a unique way. A textbook or teacher presentation can never use this knowledge to its best potential. In many warm-up activities, the teacher and students can be frustrated because the organization of language in the warm-up activity is different from the organization in the learners' minds. This mismatch is a block to good learning. Brainstorming invites the learners to organize existing knowledge in their own minds. Many learners have a large passive vocabulary which does not translate directly into productive capabilities in the classroom. Brainstorming can help to activate this. It works to mobilize the resources of the student by creating a series of connecting ideas. This leads to an organization of language. The links which appear on paper created in word mapping are visible evidence of this organization. At this point the learners will be better oriented to the topic and better motivated to fill the gaps in their knowledge.
Good Learners Find Their Own Way and Take Charge of Their Own Learning
Good Learners Make Intelligent Guesses
The good learner makes intelligent guesses, but the language classroom often works against this. Because of nervousness in a foreign language or fear of teacher correction, many students are afraid of using language unless they are sure that it is totally correct (Lucus 1984). This stops them making intelligent guesses and slows down learning.
Brainstorming can help students to learn to take risks. McCoy (1976) makes a strong argument in favor of learning problem-solving skills in order to reduce anxiety. There are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers in brainstorming and no danger of teacher correction. By carrying out a simple brainstorming warm-up, students can obtain a sense of competence and feel more confident in making intelligent guesses.
Good Learners Use Contextual Cues to Help Them in Comprehension
The good learner uses the context of language to help in comprehension but the foreign language classroom can often seem artificial. Brainstorming allows the students to create a context for the subsequent speaking task. Relevant existing knowledge (content schema) can be called up from memory and can provide a context which supports comprehension and production in the subsequent speaking task.
As discussed in this section, brainstorming can help our students to become better learners, but equally importantly, students will benefit just by working in groups. They will learn language from each other and by interacting together they will become better communicators.