Brainstorming is such an important skill that can really help your Task 2 IELTS Writing and Part 3 IELTS Speaking.
If you can brainstorm well, you’ll amaze your friends, bosses, and co-workers as if you were a magician pulling amazing ideas out of your hat.
But the key to brainstorming isn’t pulling out an amazing idea every time – it is pulling out hundreds of bad ideas, not feeling bad about that and then finding a good one every once in a while.
You have to get through the bad ideas to get to the good ones. If you feel bad about yourself, you will give up early and never get to the good ones.
Be sure to avoid the mistakes that most students make on writing by signing up for my exclusive IELTS Ebooks here on Patreon.
Activity #1 Change your Perspective
This is from one of our followers in Azerbaijan on our Facebook Page:
This is a really common and well-known strategy.
Imagine that you are someone else considering the problem.
For example, ‘Should we ban hunting for sport/fun?’
What would different people say about this and why?
A hunter might say ‘No, because it is a traditional activity handed down for generations that has many benefits related to family bonding and personal enjoyment.’
A cop might say ‘Yes, because it allows people to buy powerful guns that can then be used in violent crimes.’
A doctor might say ‘Yes, because there are countless hunting injuries each year, and these often involve people who were not even hunting.’
A liberal-wuss might say ‘Yes, because we share the earth with animals – we do not own them.’
Even try some strange ones like from the point of view of a famous (or imaginary) person or a different gender, age group, time period or location:
Superman might say with a smirk ‘I don’t really have an opinion about this but if there’s an asteroid coming towards the Earth I WILL stop it and save all the humans AND animals.’
A child might say ‘It is simply wrong to hurt animals because they are cute and friendly.’
A person from the past might say ‘Animals should only be killed to be eaten.’
A person in a poor country might say ‘There isn’t enough time or money to spend hunting for fun.’
I would say ‘[fill in your opinion here]’
See how easy that was to think of tons of great ideas? Try it out on your next Task 2 Writing Essay!
Activity #2 Use Humour to Release your Ideas
The best video lecture on creativity was given by John Cleese, the famous comedy writer and actor of Monty Python. You can find it here.
One of his many insights is that humour is a fast way of getting to a creative place and thinking of good ideas.
Tell a joke, everyone laughs and that lowers their defences and helps them think more freely and confidently.
So what can you do on the IELTS exam? Think of a joke from a comedian or a friend or a TV show or movie that you like.
Enjoy the joke for a second. That will relax you. Then write down your ideas after that.
Activity #3 Question Words
Who? Where? Why? When? How? How much/many? What? Which?
Use these question words to generate ideas.
For example, the IELTS question is ‘Should we ban hunting for sport/fun?’
“Who wants to ban hunting? Who doesn’t?”
“Where is hunting common?”
“Why do people hunt? Why do people want to band hunting?”
“How do most people hunt? Is it dangerous?”
“How much does hunting cost? How many animals are killed every year?”
“What would happen if hunting was banned? What if it becomes more popular?”
“Which countries hunt the most? Does this have an effect?”
This makes it a lot easier to come up with some really good ideas!
Activity #4 Wishful Thinking
Think about the ideal or perfect solution.
If you were doing a Task 2 Writing about Space Tourism – the advantages and disadvantages – what is the best possible outcome?
“We discover new technology and new planets and learn more about the universe. We come in contact with friendly aliens.”
If it was a Part 3 Speaking question – ‘Will people in the future continue to live in the city rather than the countryside?’
“The ideal future would be most people living in cities for work but still large populations outside the cities so that they are not too crowded. Maybe people will live outside cities if there are more opportunities for work there.”
Alternatively, you can think of the worst possible outcome and that will help you to think of ideas as well.
Activity #5 Word Links/Associations
This is a classic brainstorming method.
Write down the main word related to the topic. For example, ‘pollution.’
Now write down all the words that you usually associate with this word – climate change, governments, corporations, taxes, fossil fuels, etc.
Use these words as the basis of your main ideas and support in your paragraphs.
You can also try out this website which is really helpful for starting to think of ideas if you are doing a practice essay at home or practicing your part 3 speaking: WordStorm.com
Activity #6 Doodling and Mind Maps
Drawing pictures is a great way to come up with ideas because it allows your mind to drift and naturally think of a large number of related ideas.
So if you find yourself stuck in your Task 2 Writing, and you like to draw, try doodling a little bit on the test to start thinking again.
You don’t want to spend the full hour drawing pictures because the examiner probably won’t give you a good band score no matter how amazing your pictures are.
But taking a minute to draw what you are talking about will get you thinking again.
Activity #7 A Mathematical Equation
The last idea is for people who think artistically and this one is for people who are more logical and mathematical.
If this was a Task 2 Writing Question, for example, ‘What are the disadvantages of too many people living in cities?’ you could rewrite it like an equation:
Too many people + _________________ = Bad for cities
Then write down a few possibilities for the blank space: traffic jams, pollution, cleanliness, expensive, crime, etc.
Then choose the best 1 or 2 ideas and write about those in your essay.
Activity #8 Reverse Thinking
This means to think backwards from the solution.
Here’s a problem solution Task 2 Writing Question: Children today are becoming less healthy. Why is this a problem and what possible solutions are there?
Start with a solution: getting more exercise.
Now work backwards – how did you get children to exercise more?
Long gym classes at school, more sports facilities open to the public, public service announcements to encourage parents to go out with their kids more often, more parks in cities, etc.
That’s your whole Task 2 solutions paragraph – done!
You can also use the is for Part 3 of the Speaking test: ‘How could governments encourage people to go to museums more often?’
‘By building better, more interesting museums. To do this they could include more interactive exhibitions, update the items in museums more often, make sure museums are free on certain days of the week and advertise the museums better.’
Activity #9 The 6 Thinking Hats
Edward de Bono is one of the most famous writers on the subject of creativity.
One of his most famous books is about the 6 thinking hats.
This is very similar to activity #1 except instead of pretending to be another person, you just pretend to have a different perspective (i.e. ‘wear a different hat’).
Blue hat: manages the brainstorming by look at the overall picture or question. What are you trying to decide overall?
White hat: Uses data and information. Think about statistics, evidence and facts with this hat.
Yellow hat: Always looks for positive answers, always optimistic and hopeful. Think of ideal solutions and perfect situations here.
Green hat: Creative hat. Think about all the different possible alternatives here. This is the brainstorming hat.
Red hat: the instinctive hat. What is the first thing that comes into your head? How do you feel? Answer those questions for this hat.
Black hat: The judging hat. This hat judges the ideas you have thought of. Be careful not to use this hat too early or too much.
Activity #10 Rapid Writing
Just write – don’t stop writing.
This is the fastest method, I think.
Write down as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can. Take maybe 5 minutes.
Then go back and cross off some, circle some and improve some.
Simple but powerful!
Finally! Here’s a video helping you to think about main ideas for Task 2 Writing from our YouTube Channel!
Now it’s Your Turn! Brainstorm ideas for the question below:
What are the best ways to reduce crime in your country?