K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Carousel brainstorming is a strategy that requires students to access background knowledge or review what they have learned by thinking about subtopics within a broader topic. This strategy can be used in any discipline. A variation of this strategy is called graffiti — particularly if it has students producing images as well as words.


  • Topic: U.S. government
    • Subtopics: Legislative, executive, judicial, checks and balances
  • Topic: Systems of the body
    • Subtopics: Muscular, skeletal, digestive, lymphatic, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular
  • Topic: Animals
    • Subtopics: Mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, fish
  • Topic: Parts of speech
    • Subtopics: Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, conjunction, interjection

Materials needed

  • Sheet of newsprint or chart paper for each of the subtopics.
  • Different colored markers — one for each subtopic.
  • Clock, timer, or watch.


  1. Put a different subtopic on each of the charts.
  2. Put students in groups. The number of groups should equal the number of subtopics.
  3. Give each group a different color of magic marker, and have one student in each group serve as the recorder. Explain that the students will have a short time to write down on their chart paper all the terms or phrases they can think of that relate to the topic on their sheet. They are not allowed to add something that has been written by a previous group. This requires each group to read the ideas added by the other groups.
  4. There are two ways to continue this activity:
    • If you are comfortable with students moving about your classroom, put the newsprint in different areas of the classroom. Explain how each group will move around the classroom so that each group works with each of the charts.
    • If you would rather have the students more stationary, then inform the students that they will be passing the newsprint from one group to the other. Be sure to explain the direction of the movement so that each group will receive each of the sheets.
  5. Give the students between 30 and 90 seconds to write on their sheets. At the end of that time tell the students to move on or pass their sheet to the next group. By the third or fourth move you may need to give them a little more time as the more obvious terms will have already been added.
  6. After the groups have written on each sheet, collect all sheets and then post them in the classroom.
  7. Use the sheets to stimulate discussion of the new content or facilitate a review.
  8. You can also have the students, individually or as a whole class, determine the three or four most important terms or ideas that were written. Have the students use these ideas in writing or as notes for review.