Alphabet Brainstorm Teaching Strategy | Facing History & Ourselves
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Teaching Strategy

Alphabet Brainstorm

This brainstorming exercise is a quick way to generate students’ thoughts, measure prior knowledge, or check learning.


  • Advisory
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies




English — US



What Is an Alphabet Brainstorm?

Brainstorming is an effective way to help students get ideas onto paper. The Alphabet Brainstorm strategy helps to structure students’ brainstorming by asking them to generate ideas that begin with each letter of the alphabet. This can be done individually, in small groups, or as a whole-class activity. It is a quick way to generate thoughts, measure prior knowledge, and evaluate learning.


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How to Use Alphabet Brainstorming

Topics that work well include broad historical time periods or events (e.g., the civil rights movement, World War II, the Enlightenment) or themes (e.g., immigration, human rights, genocide). Films, books, or other media can be the focus of an Alphabet Brainstorm activity, as well.

  • Do you want to see what students already know about a topic? If so, use the Alphabet Brainstorm strategy as an opener or warm-up activity.
  • Do you want students to review material they have already studied, especially before they take a test or write an essay? If so, you can use this as a class activity to help students recall information.
  • Do you want to stimulate discussion after students watch a film or read a text? Do you want to see what students took away from the teaching of new material? If so, use the Alphabet Brainstorm strategy as part of a debrief activity or in place of the Exit Ticket strategy.

Ask students to write the alphabet down the left-hand side of a piece of paper. Alternatively, you can put 26 posters around the room, each with a letter on it. Or you can provide a graphic organizer with the alphabet printed on it.

Depending on your purpose for using this activity, the way you conduct the brainstorm will be different. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Group? Will students work alone? In pairs? In groups? As a whole class?
  • Timed? This activity works best if students are given a fixed time period. An Alphabet Brainstorm activity can be conducted in two to three minutes if students work in groups or as a class. If students are working individually, you may want to give them more time to generate an entry for most of the letters.
  • Silent? The Alphabet Brainstorm strategy can make for a good silent activity, with discussion happening after students have reviewed what they have written.
  • Accountability? Will students turn in their work? Will it be graded? If so, what qualities are you looking for in students’ responses (accuracy, creativity, how many letters they can complete, etc.)?

The results of an Alphabet Brainstorm activity provide excellent material for student discussion. What themes do they notice? What was included? What was left out?


Working in small groups or as two teams, you can have students race to see who can be the first team to complete the alphabet brainstorm. Or you can have the whole class work together to complete the brainstorm in an allotted amount of time (example: 2-3 minutes).

You could give students only a portion of the alphabet to work with. Or you could divide the alphabet into quarters or thirds and have groups work on only one section.

You could have students line up and have them say a word or phrase that relates to a theme or material (text) they just explored. The first student has to say a word that starts with “A,” the second student says a word that starts with “B,” and so on.

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