A “Carousel Brainstorm” Group Process

Type of strategy: Brainstorming and DiscussionClosings and Wrap UpEnergizers and State ChangersOpeners & Get to Know YouProcessingWriting and/or Reflection

Intended Audience: StudentsTeachers

A Carousel Brainstorm is good for generating large numbers of responses to questions or issues. In doing so, the Carousel Brainstorm informally assesses the knowledge of the participants and frames the learning around a particular focus. It can serve as a warm-up process for highlighting an agenda or as a synthesis of learning at the end of a session. It is also physically active and good for times when participants’ energy is low. A Carousel Brainstorm is usually about 45 minutes in length.  1999 by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory


The process begins with a number of different questions posted around the room on easel paper. Participants are divided into small groups and assigned a starting point to

begin the brainstorming process. After a few minutes of brainstorming as a small group, they move on to the next question and repeat the brainstorming process. This continues until all groups have had the opportunity to brainstorm around each question. There are a variety of ways to summarize learning and bring closure to the group process.   Purposes:   The specific purposes of the Carousel Brainstorm are the following:
  • Assessing Knowledge, Needs, Interests, and Attitudes.
  • Building a Common Vocabulary.
  • Collecting and Analyzing Data.
  • Exploring Multiple Perspective.
  • Reflecting on Practice.
  • Starting Conversations.
  • Structuring Learning.
  • Tapping Prior Knowledge and Beliefs.
  • Center and front facilitator area (for overhead projector, materials, etc.) that is easily visible to all participants
  • Carousel Brainstorm questions posted around the perimeter of the room on the walls with chart paper and markers
  • Space for participants to move from posting to posting
  • Easel, chart paper, and different colored markers
  • Computer-generated posters, if desired
  • Overhead projector and screen
  • Chimes or other noisemakers, if desired
  • Purposes, Process, and Questions transparencies
During the Session:
  • Introduce the content topic and the purposes of this group process.
  • Describe to the whole group that they will be brainstorming ideas and sharing them with a small group of 3-5 people (depending on the size of the whole group). They will be asked to record their ideas on easel paper—either building on an idea that is already listed or adding a new idea.
  • Ask the group to give some examples of “guidelines for effective brainstorming.” Record them on chart paper and post them for all to see. 
  • Ask group members to count-off by the number of questions, and then explain the steps in the Carousel Brainstorm process.
  • Review the questions that are posted on chart paper around the room, letting groups know where they will begin the brainstorming process.
  • Develop a signal or use chimes to let groups know when it is time to move to the next question. It is recommended that later rounds be given less time than early rounds. (e.g., rounds one and two may take 4 minutes each; round three may take 3 minutes; rounds four may take 2 minutes.)
  • When all groups have responded to each of the questions, ask groups to return to the question that they started with and to review all of the ideas on the chart paper. You might ask each small group to create a “key” and coding system to identify common themes and clusters of ideas.
  • Finally, ask each group to report out to the whole group, briefly summarizing the themes, big ideas, and important applications to their work that emerged from the Carousel Brainstorming around their specific question.


From the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

Submitted by: Melissa Lim