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The power of brainstorming

Brainstorming may seem like a simple activity, but it’s a powerful learning tool and an essential element of the Sound Waves program. Use brainstorming to instigate a creative dialogue about how words work and why graphemes do the things they do. Read on to find out how you can make the most of weekly brainstorming sessions to help your students develop their phonics skills.

When do we brainstorm?

Conduct brainstorming as part of your Monday Sound Waves lesson. Start with a quick warm-up, introduce the focus sound for the week and you’re ready to start brainstorming.

What do we brainstorm?

Use the weekly lesson plans available at Sound Waves Online or in your Teacher Book for brainstorming ideas to suit the focus sound and language concepts each week.

In Year 1 Unit 8 , for example, have students brainstorm words containing the focus sound. Record the words on a chart under their matching graphemes (f or ff).1

Later in the week, you will teach the blends fl, fr and ft. Use your list of brainstormed words to introduce these blends as they arise, and encourage students to think of more words that contain them.

What if students suggest words with unusual graphemes?

The graphemes f, ff and ph represent the sound /f/ in 99% of words, but there will always be students who think of words in the 1% — and that’s a good thing! As unusual graphemes pop up, record them on your chart under the heading ‘Other’, while maintaining focus on the more common graphemes.2

How do we record brainstormed words?

Record words on whatever is available, but chart paper or butcher’s paper are ideal for displaying brainstormed words for the whole week. (Words recorded on a whiteboard, for example, may have to be erased to make room for other lessons during the week.)

When do we refer back to the brainstorming charts?

The brainstorming charts are an invaluable teaching and learning tool that can be used all week:

  • Add to the charts as students read, write and hear new words containing the focus sound.
  • Use the words with the great games and activities available in the Teacher Book. For example, have students select fr and fl words from the chart to play Table Tennis Blends.
  • Refer to the chart as a constant, bespoke teaching tool to introduce or consolidate grapheme choices, patterns and more.

How does brainstorming develop through the years?

Brainstorming possibilities grow as students’ phonics skills and vocabulary develop over the years. Organise brainstormed words on the chart according to:

  • graphemes (e.g. f, ff, ph and Other)
  • sound position (e.g. initial, medial and final)
  • blends (e.g. fr and ft for )
  • spelling patterns (e.g. ck appears after a short vowel).

Remember, brainstorming is a great way to get students thinking about how words work and why graphemes do the things they do. So grab a ream of chart or butcher’s paper and put your students’ brainstorming on display.

Share your brainstorming ideas on social media and tag us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

1. In Phase 1 of the Foundation year, brainstorming is purely an oral activity to avoid sound–letter confusion.

2. Brooks, G 2015 Dictionary of the British English Spelling System, Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK, viewed 11 January 2019, https://www.openbookpublishers.com/reader/325#page/90/mode/2up.