8 Ways to Help Introverts Brainstorm for Creative Projects

Here’s a little scenario that will be familiar to most teachers. There you are leading a brainstorm for a creative project, when you notice several students haven’t contributed a single word. Despite your best attempts to moderate and encourage all voices, you just can’t seem to catch the eyes of the quiet ones. But you know they’ve got great ideas; in fact, their written work is often the best in the class. And yet, you know they’ll be mortified if you call them by name — red cheeks and stammering is almost a guarantee. How can you help your introverted students brainstorm great ideas without this level of stress?

It Starts With Understanding

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While there is a high chance that quieter students may be introverts, it’s important not to confuse introversion with shyness or other social anxieties. As Susan Cain articulates with such nuance in both her famous TED Talk and her bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introversion is primarily about a student’s energy. Students who gain their energy and inspiration from being around people are extroverts, while introverts are refreshed via quiet and alone time. Introverts can definitely be social creatures, but they can only be so when they’re getting enough solo thinking and contemplation time. Introverts are also more likely to find loud and highly social experiences overwhelming, and often prefer to have fewer but higher quality friends.

Given these realities, here are a few ways you can set introverts up for success while brainstorming in the classroom.

 1. Don’t Let Extroverts Dominate the Discussion

Extroverted students often prove essential in getting the discussion rolling. They also often have wonderful ideas to contribute. Still, it’s important not to let louder voices dominate the entire discussion. Encourage other students to speak, first by asking other extroverts who haven’t managed to work their way into the exchange yet directly to contribute. Then encourage introverted students to speak not by asking them directly but by saying something like, “Thank you for these wonderful ideas. Is there anybody who hasn’t spoken up yet who has any thoughts to add?”

Even better, get specific with your questions so that your introverted students will feel confident what they have to say is relevant to the topic at hand. And of course, praise and write down all ideas, no matter how good you secretly think they are. Taken together, these measures will provide at least some introverted students with the confidence they need to speak up.

2. Break Out of the Big Group

Introverts thrive when they have the mental space and quiet contemplation they need to really think their thoughts through. They also do better when they’re not trying to process a loud, rapid fire conversation at the same time as they’re trying to think. As such, try breaking students into much smaller groups of extroverts or introverts, or even letting them brainstorm on their own (a solid 40 years of research indicates that people tend to brainstorm better ideas solo anyway). For the introverts, make sure to provide a quiet space that is free from distraction — one that is basically the complete opposite of the open plan office.

Of course, before giving students this kind of autonomy, set clear goals for what they are to accomplish and demonstrate a few ways that the process can go. Introverts in particular tend to thrive when they have the nitty gritty details, and it will be well worth your time devote class time to a lesson in brainstorming. As with all brainstorming, emphasize a “yes, and…” mentality; that is, there are no bad ideas, and every thought should be taken as far as it can go.

3. Do It In Bursts

When brainstorming in a group of any size, introverts will do best when the brainstorming sessions don’t last any longer than about 10 minutes (depending on the age). For longer sessions, take think breaks to allow introverts to recover.

4. Stretch It Out

No one said brainstorming had to happen in one sitting. After all, there’s a reason thought leaders and creatives so often talk about having “shower moments,” in which a great idea just pops into their brains as their sudsing up. Our brains often need time and space for processing thoughts and making connections subconsciously. As such, have students touch base again the next day to see if they have any thoughts to add to the discussion. Alternatively, keep a sheet on the wall and have students add ideas sporadically as they come. This can be done well in a shared Google Doc as well.

5. Try Brainwriting Rather Than Brainstorming

Who said the best ideas are orally articulated? Try asking your students to jot down a few ideas for the project at hand. Then have them swap papers and add their own thoughts in different colored pens. Maintain silence the whole time, while students’ minds open up on the page before them.

6. Provide Detailed Agendas Beforehand

In the workplace, detailed agendas allow introverts the space they need to really think through what they’re going to say when the time comes, removing the pressure of thinking on their feet. The same can be true in the classroom. Whether you write it down on a syllabus, email the class the night before, or communicate details orally at the end of the previous school day, give students a brief rundown of what they can expect in the project brainstorming session to come so they can fully prepare.

7. Offer Introverts Role Models

From J.K. Rowling to Steve Wozniak, introverts across the ages have consistently contributed to the world good. Help build the confidence of your introverts by providing them with famous role models, while also providing positive feedback for their ideas, and embracing rather than criticizing their mindset.

8. Don’t Force Introverts to Speak

This point cannot be emphasized enough. Yes, introverted students will need coping skills as they navigate an extroverted world, and yes, this does mean learning to speak in bigger groups from time to time. But these are skills that can and should be worked on in a focused and encouraging manner, one that is separate from the brainstorming process. Creativity requires confidence and an environment in which all students feel they can safely articulate their ideas without criticism. Forced contributions remove those feelings of safety, and are therefore counterproductive. By all means, work on public speaking, but do it outside of the brainstorming arena.


Introverted students are deep-thinking, and often highly creative individuals who can and should be encouraged to brainstorm in a way that unlocks their potential rather than getting in its way. How do you help your introverts brainstorm? Let us know what you’ve seen work — and what you’ve seen fail — in the comments below or via Twitter @Edudemic!




  1. Sara

    November 21, 2014 at 8:31 am

    This is really a great post! Somewhat of an introvert myself, I think that many of these tips would have really benefitted me in the classroom. It is important to remember that our introverts tend to have great ideas, they just need a better way to express their creativity and I really think that the suggestions you have made would be great ways to get the shyer students involved in brainstorming.

    • Leah Levy

      November 21, 2014 at 10:49 am

      Glad you enjoyed and identified with this, Sara! I am (mostly) an introvert too and have been so cheered by the rise awareness over the past several years. Time to get those introverts respected and heard!

  2. Farah Najam

    November 23, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    School is designed for the extroverts of the world. OK, maybe that’s not entirely fair. Many teachers design their classrooms to meet the needs of different personality types Introverted children require time to process their thoughts and emotions before they speak. If they aren’t the first ones to raise their hands every time a teacher asks a question, it’s for the reason that they are busy processing their thoughts. A slight shift in how teachers seek class input can help. When teachers pose a question but give children a certain amount of time to consider the question before raising their hands to speak, kids learn to think first.

    • Leah Levy

      November 24, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Excellent points!

  3. Taruni Kancharla

    November 28, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    These are some excellent points. I really enjoyed watching the TED talk as well. I believe these points can be used for providing proper scripting that facilitates better discussions in online learning environments. Currently, there are countless lurkers and many more users that hesitate to participate. Some of that maybe because of their personality, but it’s the responsibility of the designer to design the environment in such a way that it adapts to each user’s specification.

    • Leah Levy

      November 30, 2014 at 7:16 am

      I love the idea of making ed tech all about “environment.” Great point.

      • Chaitanya Yaddanapudi

        December 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm

        I love the first point. In most of the in class discussions, extroverts do the major share of talking. Introverts tend to keep quite all the time. But if an instructor pushes every one speak out, introverts may feel uncomfortable and they even tend to skip the particular class. But online learning environment helps such introverts to express their thoughts online. Many studies have shown that the introverts tend to express more in an online community when compared to a class room environment.

        • Leah Levy

          December 9, 2014 at 8:04 am

          I agree, I have yet to see pushing introverted students into speaking actually work. Instead, they clam up or avoid the class entirely, and learning becomes a traumatic thing. Definitely think online learning can help!

    • Supriya Prabhakar

      December 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      A very well written article. I particularly loved the idea of brain-writing. Most often, I believe introverts tend to keep to themselves because they are intimidated by the surroundings and for the fear of being judged. Adding to your well-thought out ideas, I think its important to make introverts feel comfortable in the environment they are in. You have already mentioned breaking down bigger groups is key. If the interaction is to happen on a regular basis, I think it would be great if an introvert interacts with the same group in every meeting. It would not only build a circle of trust but also give him a sense of belonging to a community. This would probably help an introvert contribute.

    • Frankie Ramirez

      December 10, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Taruni, I agree. These points really give a foundation of what needs to happen for introverts to become more social, or open. I would like to add that it takes much effort to help someone without them realizing that they are being helped. I feel like taking small steps at a time would really benefit introverts. For example, letting introverts lead small group discussions, then slowly help them to lead bigger and bigger groups.

  4. Satyanand Kale

    December 1, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Nice ideas and nicely presented.
    I like the idea “Try Brainwriting Rather Than Brainstorming” in particular.
    This idea usually works better for introverts who wants to contribute to any task without involving more verbally.

    • Arokia Diana Gene

      December 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm

      I agree to the point discussed about ‘Brainwriting’. Brainwriting allows one to quickly jot down his ideas in paper rather than conveying it to a group of people. It helps to reduce anxiety on how to verbally present an idea. It also allows an introvert person to contribute equally to an extrovert person.

      • Leah Levy

        December 8, 2014 at 7:52 am

        Glad you liked this one. As an introvert, this is one of my favorite ways to gather ideas.

        • Anupam Goel

          December 8, 2014 at 3:03 pm

          Excellent article! I liked the idea of breaking out of a big group. I can very much relate to this article and I also believe that one on one sessions with professors can really bring out the best in an introvert person. It might not be practically feasible in a large class, but it wouldn’t hurt to have group one on one’s with professors. As stated above, brain writing is one of the best methodologies and I have personally experienced it. Discussion activities in one of my classes had a brain writing session, where we needed to develop a mind map. It was a fun activity & produced many innovative ideas which I believe might not have been the case, had it been an face to face discussion.

          • Leah Levy

            December 9, 2014 at 8:05 am

            As a learning specialist, I’m always pro one-on-one work, but I’m biased. :-) I’m glad to hear brain writing works well for you. Such a fun activity!

    • mounika vaddem

      December 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      That’s a great post by Leah! All the points mentioned above work perfectly well with introverts. I feel the point Try Brain-writing Rather Than Brainstorming and Don’t Force Introverts to Speak which makes a huge difference for introverts. Constant feedback and appraisals keeps them motivated. I also suggest that one-one discussions help introverts portrait their ideas well without any discomfort.

      • Leah Levy

        December 9, 2014 at 8:06 am

        Thank you, Mounika. Glad you enjoyed!

    • Induja Gopinath

      December 9, 2014 at 12:41 am

      The idea looks good. But I feel it will not help the introvert person to come out of the shell. Rather than just jotting down the points, there should be a specific way to make them speak out. This way allows them to come out of shell and in some time, they will contribute equally to an extrovert person.

  5. Denny Abraham Cheriyan

    December 10, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    There are some really good points mentioned here about helping introverts brainstorm in a classroom setting. But an environment where you’ll be surrounded by a lot of students may not be very comforting for introverts. I guess allowing students to take this activity home (or where ever they feel comfortable) and making use of online collaboration tools such as shared documents will be helpful. Although introversion and shyness are different, some people might be comfortable writing under a pseudonym or being completely anonymous