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How to Master Brainstorming for the CELPIP Exam
Episode 65 β€’ 25th June 2024 β€’ The Speak English Fearlessly Podcast β€’ Aaron Nelson
00:00:00 00:23:31

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In this episode, I'm talking about how you can improve your brainstorming skills.

If brainstorming is hard for you, know that you're not alone! Many test takers report this as being one of their pain points!

The episode revisits key concepts from a previous discussion on mindset and creativity and offers practical tips to improve brainstorming under pressure.

We'll also cover the importance of generating multiple ideas, avoiding the pursuit of the perfect idea, and using strategies like bullet points, shorthand, and symbols during brainstorming.

I also talk about a fun game that you can play that will help you practice your brainstorming and quick thinking skills.

00:00 Introduction to Brainstorming Challenges

00:56 Mindset and Creativity in Brainstorming

01:00 Overcoming the Pressure of Perfection

02:23 Generating Sparks and Idea Flow

04:14 Practical Tips for Brainstorming

04:42 Welcome to the Speak English Fearlessly Podcast

06:29 Common Brainstorming Problems

08:19 Developing Your Creative Muscle

09:49 Class Clip: Strategies for Speaking Task 1

13:08 Effective Brainstorming Techniques

18:23 Fun Game to Boost Creativity: Scattergories

22:29 Conclusion and Resources

Links Mentioned:

Go to my free resource section to watch the class and clip I shared in the podcast about brainstorming and CELPIP Speaking Task One.

Previous Episode where I talked about brainstorming and overthinking.


Brainstorming is one of those commonly experienced problems that CELPIP test takers face. And I frequently get questions about this from podcast listeners, I thought today, I would touch on this topic once again, back on April 30th

I did an episode all around brainstorming and how overthinking was standing in your way to finding success while brainstorming on the exam, and I'll be linking to that episode in my show notes today. And one of the things that we covered in that episode was the importance of mindset. But it's such an important topic that I think I want to bring it back and just talk about it a little bit with you again today, just as a refresher. If you heard that episode and just to share it with you, if you haven't heard that episode, because more than anything, brainstorming is two things.

It's your mindset. And it's also creativity. Mindset, because

I think one of the top reasons, if not the top reason, why people struggle with brainstorming under pressure is because Like when you're under the pressure of the CELPIP exam is that they feel like they have to come up with the perfect idea in order for it to work. And so they end up not writing anything because they think that every idea they come up with isn't good enough to be the best idea to work with.

So it's a mindset issue. I have to come up with the best idea in order for me to start coming up with ideas. And so I'm not going to be happy with any of the ideas that I come up with because it doesn't seem like it's the best idea. So that is a mindset issue that I want to clear away with you today.

If that's something that you struggle with, you know, that idea of I have to have the best idea possible in order to do well on the exam. Instead, I want to offer you something new to think about. And that is this. You don't have to come up with the perfect idea, but instead you do need to come up with ideas and lots of them.

And the more focused those ideas are on the topic that you're going to be talking about, the better. So it's not about the perfect idea. It's about ideas. The second thing that I want you to think about is that you need to come up with sparks. Think about brainstorming, like generating sparks and you know what happens when sparks start to fly.

Like if you've ever watched a fire, sometimes little tiny fires begin because of those sparks that come shooting off of the main fire. And that's what you're looking for when you're brainstorming is for a spark, a word, a thought that will come out and just generate sparks. or help you generate your answer.

That's what brainstorming has the power to do to unlock or open up a flood of ideas that you can use when you are actually speaking or writing. And very similar to the idea of sparks and that you're looking for ideas, not the perfect idea is that you want flow to happen. Think of it like a river. You don't want to just have a tiny trickle of ideas.

You want to have a lot of things to work with. Flow. a lot of ideas, a lot of things that you can put down on paper and that can stir your thoughts and help you to, to come up with your answer when you actually begin to speak. I love the Spanish word for brainstorm because I think it captures what you're really looking for even better than the English word brainstorm. In Mexico, brainstorm is Yuvia de ideas. Directly translating, it means idea rain.

Get that picture in your mind. When it rains, most of the time you, you see thousands upon thousands of drops. It might start off slow, but usually those raindrops come down in an uncountable number of drops, right? There's just lots of them, and that's what you're wanting to have happen up here in your mind when you're trying to brainstorm, you want it to rain ideas.


it's part creativity and it's also part muscle. I don't know.

Does that sound good? Then please keep listening. Today I'll be sharing some practical ideas that will help you develop your brainstorming skills as well as a fun game that you can play with your friends and your family that will also help you develop your creative skills as well as your brainstorming skills.


Well, hello there and welcome to the Speak English Fearlessly podcast. This is the podcast for motivated English learners who want to speak English fearlessly and learn practical tips and strategies to conquer the CELPIP exam.

I also love to feature encouraging interviews with regular people, people just like you, who are working towards becoming fluent in English, so we can learn from their experiences together. Who am I? My name is Aaron Nelson, and I've been an English teacher for over 16 years, and I now help students prepare for the CELPIP exam through online classes.

Well, first of all, if you are just joining us, I want to say a big hello to you. Thank you for stopping by and for downloading this episode. I'm so glad you're here. I really hope that you'll sit back and relax and you'll learn something new about the CELPIP exam and about brainstorming, because that's what we're talking all about today.

And if you are a return listener, I just want to say a special thank you to you because it means so much for me to have you coming back week after week. I really appreciate you. I appreciate you, my new listener, but I also appreciate you, my friend, who keeps coming back and listening to each episode each week for the past year and April, May, June, we're almost in July.

So almost a year and three months that I've been at this. So thank you so much for continuing to come back and, and to support the show with your ears. I'm glad that you're here. New listener, old listener. I'm glad that you're both here today.

So, you know, I bet that, you know, Exactly what it's like to know that you need to say or write something, especially as you're practicing for the CELPIP, and yet you don't know what to say or to write. And that timer keeps ticking away. You've drawn a blank. Have you ever heard that expression before to draw a blank?

It means Your mind is empty. When you need an idea, there's nothing coming to you. That's a common problem that many CELPIP test takers complain about. When it's time for me to write, or when it's time for me to speak, I draw a blank.

Or worse. I don't know if it's worse. I can't tell what's worse. Is it worse for you if you're trying to come up with an idea and you just can't come up with an idea, or does it feel worse for you to have just one or two simple ideas and you run out of things to say partway through the writing process?

or the speaking section of the exam. What feels worse to you? Not knowing what to say, or getting stuck in the middle without something else to say after you got started? Hmm, maybe they both feel equally as rotten and terrible. Well, if you draw a blank, and if you struggle with running out of things to say, then I want you to first of all know that you're not the only one Who has this happen to you?

I bet you know exactly what it's like to know you need to say or write something, especially as you're practicing for the CELPIP exam and not know what to say or write. You draw a blank or you only get one or two thoughts down before your brainstorming time is up, which ends up not being enough for you to work with once the real question begins.

You draw a blank. You run out of things to write about. If this happens to you on exam day, you and I both know what will happen. Your scores will suffer. If you struggle with brainstorming, then the first If you struggle with brainstorming, then first of all, know that you're totally not alone. Many test takers report this as one of their areas of weakness.

Now, I know that this doesn't help you solve the problem, but it should at least help you silence that pesky little voice that might be trying to tell you that you suck at English because you can't even come up with a few simple ideas. That's a complete lie. Don't buy into it. The truth is, brainstorming is a skill that you can develop and grow just like a muscle.

It's a creative muscle. The cool thing is this, the more you use any of your creative skills, the stronger they become. I've shared this before, but at work, I run a writer's group for seniors. I've got a few writers in that group who haven't touched a pen and a paper to write creatively in decades.

Do you want to know what their greatest fear was? What if I can't come up with anything to write about? Do you want to know something interesting about this special little group of mine? Most of the members are over 70 years of age. One of them is in her late 90s. And almost every week now, they have come up with something to share.

One of them in particular has surprised herself with all the stories that seem to come bubbling up as she starts to write. And she was one of the ones who worried about not having anything to say when we first got started. The point that I'm trying to make with you is this. Creativity grows. It develops and it gets stronger the more you exercise it.

Brainstorming is a creative exercise. If you feel stuck at it, you can improve it through practice. Today, I want to share a short 7 or so minute clip from a class I gave around getting ready for Speaking Task 1.

It's recorded from a class that I held on Zoom, so I apologize for the audio if it sounds a bit weird, but in this clip, I go into detail about some of the practical things that you can be doing to be practicing your brainstorming skills. And hey, don't worry if you can't keep up with what I'm talking about. I'll be sharing, and don't worry if you can't keep up with what I'm talking about on this clip. I'll be sharing the complete video of this class with you today. And please don't worry if you can't keep up with all the things that I'm talking about in this clip.

I'll be sharing the complete video, which is a class, with you today. If you want to follow along, all you have to do to grab it Oh my goodness, I'm totally messing that up. And Hey, don't worry if you can't keep up with what I'm talking about in this clip, I'll be sharing the complete video of it. which is actually a class that I taught a couple of weeks ago with you today, if you want to follow along to grab it, just go to That's And you'll be able to download a copy of this video so that you can watch it again and again and take notes along with it. And if that will help you.

Make sure that you come back after this clip because I'll be sharing a fun board game that you can play That will help you have a great time with your family and friends While helping you to also develop your brainstorming skills in English. So here's the clip.


πŸ“ Today, we're going to be taking a quick look at some of the most important strategies that will help you to get ready and help you to go through speaking tasks quickly. one, which is all about giving advice.

So that's what we're going to cover tonight. Just some key strategies that will help you to do a really good job on this speaking task, which is the first speaking task on the exam. So let's get started. The first thing that you need to know is that you will have 30 seconds to brainstorm 30 seconds.

That is not a lot of time, but it is. is enough to help you to get some information down on your paper. You need to remember that on the exam, you are going to have a piece of some paper that you can write with, uh, that you could write on and a pen or a pencil that you can write with. I strongly suggest that you use those 30 seconds to create an outline of what you're going to talk about.

Keep in mind that the exam is giving you this time because it's important. because it will help you, if you take advantage of the time, to organize what you want to say, to take your ideas from here, put them on paper, organize them in such a way that you will know what you're going to say, and you'll know where you want to go with what you want to say in an organized way.

way. And by the way, you can read off of your paper when you're actually recording your answer. That's important to know. You don't have to have everything memorized. For example, you can put it on paper and then just begin your recording. So that's really important. 30 seconds. Use all of the time. Use those 30 seconds.

Don't just, you know, pretend that it doesn't exist. Don't waste the time. Really try to use it to organize what you're going to say. And here are some important strategies when you are doing the brainstorming section of any of the tasks on the CELPIP. So first of all, never write in complete sentences.

You only have 30 seconds, right? So each word is taking up valuable time. So never use a complete sentence. You're not looking for a book here. You're going to be looking for bullet points, right? Just write bulleted answers or bulleted ideas. For a lot of people, one of the things that they find, well, the thing that they find to be the most helpful is just doing like a list.

So like one word, another word right underneath of it, another word right underneath of it that pertains to The way you want to talk or what you want to talk about in order to answer, uh, that question. So no full, no full sentences, use a list and just go one word under the other. So, uh, the next one, I don't know if you can figure out what I've written there.

Have a look. What do you think I'm saying when you read that? I'll give you a second just to have a look at it. See if you can guess or figure out that secret message that I wrote there. It's not really a secret message, but it's a way that you can write your ideas faster. What do you know if you're, if you're not sure?

What do you notice is missing here and here? Or more importantly, what kind of, uh, letters are WRT and VWLS. And what kind of a letter is the letter O, for example? They're, they're not just letters, they are something else. In English, WRT and VWLS are all Consonants. Consonants. O, A, E, I, O U Those letters are called vowels.

So one way that you can save time when you're writing out a word or an idea is to just leave out the vowels. And that way you can probably figure out what that word is. So, W R T is right. W R, I left out the vowel I T, right? And then this is, is something different. I'm using something called shorthand here.

And I learned this word. How to write this word when I was in university, we took a note taking class, and I don't remember all the symbols and all the, uh, the, the shorthand ideas that our professor gave to us, but one of the ones that I do remember is this, whenever you write W slash O, it can mean without, so write without, and then here, The vowels, the vowels are missing.

And I just gave you what that word is. So V O W V O W E L S vowels. So write without vowels. So that's, that's an interesting way that you can just write a little bit quicker. We vote the vowels and the next one, use symbols. You don't have to write complete words. For example, instead of saying plus or positive, you could say, you could just write that symbol, the plus symbol.

If it's a negative situation, you could write the negative sign or the subtraction sign. If, uh, you wanted to say yes, you could put a check mark, for example. If you wanted to say no, you could put an X. So, think about some ways that you can write words without actually writing words, and one of those ways is using symbols, another one is using shorthand, you can create your own shorthand by the way, if you have creative ways that you can express your ideas without actually using full words, Go for it.

I mean, some people have drawn little pictures, but honestly, you don't have a lot of time to get into drawing too many pictures. So I wouldn't spend too much time on creating art around this because you just don't have a lot of time. All right. Uh, so once again, to brainstorm effectively, don't write in full sentences, use bullet points, write your ideas one below the other

in a list, don't use vowels. You can try writing without vowels to shorten the words. You can create your own shorthand. That's what this is called. When you shorten a word, uh, with out, that's what that one is. And you can create your own, like I said before, and also use symbols. When you are thinking of ideas, like if something is going to go up, you could draw an up arrow.

If it's down, you could draw a down arrow. If it's the same, you could write the equal sign. There's lots of different symbols that you can use to help you to express an idea. .

β€Šβ€ŠHey, welcome back So what did you think? Did you pick up any tips to help you with your brainstorming skills? Okay, I promised something fun a game that you can enjoy with your friends and with your family that I promise will help you develop your quick and creative thinking skills. Have you ever heard of the game called Scattergories?

ergories came out way back in:

Whatever category you want to put there, you can use it. To begin, you randomly select a letter of the alphabet. This will become the first letter of the words you must try and come up with for something that belongs to each of your categories. Now, I know that sounds a bit muddled up, so here's an example.

Let's say you randomly choose the letter A to be the starting letter of the words you need to work through. And let's say that one of your categories was animal. So you have to come up with an animal that begins with the letter A. In my example, I wrote ape. What would you write? What animal do you know that starts with the letter A?

Now, let's imagine that the second category was holidays. Now, I thought about this one for a little bit, but I could not come up with a holiday that started with A. And now that I'm here talking with you, uh, I still can't come up with a holiday that begins with A. Can you think of one? If you can, please write me and tell me what idea you came up with, because I still can't think of what holiday begins with A.

And I'd love to hear your answer. So, the next category that I wrote down was vegetables. Can you think of a vegetable that begins with the letter A? Now, I came up with artichoke. I'm not exactly sure if that's a vegetable. I think it's a vegetable. If you disagree with me, please write and tell me, okay?

But I wrote down Artichoke. And for famous actor, I wrote Anthony Hopkins. You get the idea, however many categories you want, usually around six to 10 categories, you write a word that belongs to that category that begins with the letter of the alphabet that you're working with on that turn. To make the game even more challenging and fun, you can work against a timer.

Usually you give yourself about two to three minutes to try to come up with as many different words as you possibly can. But here's the added challenge. If the time is not enough for you, you know, if, if the time is not a big enough challenge for you, you can increase the level of difficulty even more.

by following this simple rule. If you're playing with a group of people, and you kind of should to make it more interesting and fun. If the same, if the, if a word gets used by more than one person, you can't count it as a score. you lose that point. So you have to try to come up with unusual words if you can for each of the, for each of the categories.

So if you duplicate an answer, is what I'm trying to say, if you duplicate an answer, you don't get the score a point for that answer.

And when that time is up, you stop writing and then you start sharing what words you wrote down for each category. And if you don't have the game, it's easy enough to create a version of it on your own. So go ahead and give it a try. I'll bet. I bet. You'll enjoy it. Like I said previously, if you'd like to watch the clip, I shared a little bit ago about brainstorming, please head over to not only will I share that clip with you, but I'll share the complete class that clip belonged to. That class was focused on speaking task 1, which is all about giving advice. So, you'll learn about brainstorming, as well as some key strategies that will help you prepare for task 1.

of the speaking portion of the CELPIP exam. That's over at Go ahead and sign up and grab your copy of that clip today. And thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I hope you found it to be helpful, and I want to invite you to please tune in next Tuesday when I'll drop another episode for you.

Have a great week, and I'll see you next Tuesday. Bye bye.



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