A progressive brainstorm is a great activity to check prior knowledge and for students to share what they already know about a topic at the beginning of a unit of work.
- Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5 and give each group a large piece of paper in the centre of which is a circle with a statement from the topic or unit, and students write What we know about [the particular topic]. Each group should have a different colour pen.
- As a group, students brainstorm what they already know about the topic, write a response to the statement in the circle, or write down any words or concepts they associate with the topic.
- After a few minutes, each group moves to the next group’s table, leaving their brainstorm piece of paper behind but keeping their particular colour pen.
- On the next group’s paper, they add their ideas and add to what the other group has written or add what they think is missing.
- The groups continue moving until all the groups have contributed to all the papers and are back at their original position.
- Each group discusses what is now written on their original paper (for New to English students you might like to provide them with some phrases for discussing), noting any relevant additions or critiquing anything they disagree with.
- The papers are put on the wall, and each group briefly reports on any comments they have learned from other groups.
A progressive brainstorm helps build shared knowledge in the class and assists teachers in assessing current knowledge and thinking around the topic.
You could also allow New to English students to write in their first language as this gives them real ownership of their own learning.