Sentence Stems & Exemplars

.Hey all - I taught this lesson last week and it went okay, but I struggled a lot in trying to find good ways to guide my students towards productive brainstorming around users and needs. When brainstorming users, they wanted to give overly vague answers like “teenagers” or “students” or “older people”. When they were brainstorming needs, they tended to brainstorm overly general needs without tying it to the specific users they thought of - eg: “it should be comfortable”, and when I asked why, they would say “everyone likes comfortable things”. I ended up running out of time for the lesson because I needed to focus my students’ ideas a little more - their brainstorms weren’t leading anywhere specific or productive.

One thing I noticed that I think contributed to these overly vague ideas were students were writing 1-2 word ideas - “teenagers”, “comfortable”, “stylish”, “older people” - which I didn’t think were really helping them focus in on ways smart clothing could help solve a societal problem. In the middle of the lesson, I forced all the students to write the sentence “An issue my users have is _________________. My clothing can help by ____________________”, which really seemed to help focus their thoughts into something that could be used in the next steps.

I know this brainstorm process is going to come around again in later lessons and I want to be better prepared to help guide students towards productive, actionable ideas that they can use in their prototypes. Here’s my question: are there any sentence-stem type prompts that teachers have compiled to help focus students as they come up with their ideas? Are there certain types of questions teachers tend to ask during this activity that helps focus student ideas? Or are there any exemplars from this type of activity floating around that I can look at to help me understand what a productive brainstorm session looks like?



Great question and we’ll try to get more responses as I’m sure others will have similar questions. I found going to extremes first helped my students (thinking about the elderly, young children/babies, the disabled) to think about those needs and then find the everyday differences between people, they were able to work from that and realize that those extremes have special needs - but if someone broke their leg, they would be in a wheelchair for a while and expanded on that thought.

I haven’t done this particular lesson, but with design thinking in the past I’ve used the “comfortable seat on a subway” scenario (I live in NYC) to help students make direct connections - they would notice the three mentioned groups and their special needs to expand on.

Let me know if you have any further questions and hopefully more examples come in!

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Those are some sound strategies for getting students to think with empathy and tying to real-world experiences. I guess my question would be: is focusing in the extremes a valid strategy for the remaining brainstorm sessions? When students interview other students to create their paper prototypes at the end of Chapter 1 of this unit, should I be guiding them to think about these extreme differences? As I read the lessons that are coming up, it doesn’t seem like the focus of the curriculum is to guide students to focus solely on these extremes - it seems like the goal is to focus student thinking on identifying specific users with specific needs and creating a design in response to that, even if it’s something as common as “teenagers who want to learn common phrases in Spanish”.

I don’t think my students have trouble coming up with user groups; it’s more that they have trouble expressing their ideas in a meaningful way. This is where sentence stems would be useful since it forces them to format their answers in a certain way; or exemplars would be useful since they can see the format of a worthwhile answer that leads to a productive brainstorm in the Prepare section of the design cycle. Is there a standard way these user group and interest statements are usually formatted?

I’ve had a chance to think about this a little more and, reflecting on how this lesson went and thinking of future lessons, here are some more formalized thoughts.

I think I wish there was a lesson before this one that whose purpose/outcome was solely for students to practice identifying user groups (or, after talking this out with a few folks, I think I prefer the term identifying communities) without being too general or too specific. When I taught this lesson, I found that my students could only think in terms of overly broad communities that didn’t help narrow down the focus for designing their product, or they wanted to create microscopic user profiles similar to the user stories they saw in Lesson 4.2. If identifying communities exist on a spectrum - from overly general to hyper specific - my students haven’t been shown strategies to identify communities in the middle that make good targets for apps and products. I also felt underprepared to provide strategies to help focus their efforts during this lesson because identifying communities is only part of the lesson - eventually we wanted to get to the design part of the lesson, so it was hard for me to focus on productive questions or feedback when I knew we needed to move on in the lesson.

An idea I had was to have a mad-lib-esque activity where students identify an age range, a location, a relationship to society (I’ll explain this in a sec), a mode of travel, and an interest or hobby. Then they use those to fill in these blanks: “I want to design a product for (age range) people who live in (location) who (relationship), use a (travel mode), and are interested in (interest)”. I imagine this could create sentences like:
“older people who live in the mountains who own a dog, travel by walking, and are interested in astronomy” - or:
“young people who live by the ocean who have older siblings, travel by longboard, and are interested in going to concerts” - or:
“adults who live in the desert who own a dog, own a truck, and are interested in hiking”

Yah - I think I like that sentence stem. Sentence stem problem = solved. We could even build this sentence piece by piece, eventually adding a restriction (like “has allergies” or “wears glasses”) or something else that might need to be considered for the design.

I think I’ll try this in my next lesson and see how it goes. My hope is being aware of this type of sentence structure will help students be able to better identify important information from the interviews they’ll conduct in Lesson 7.


Hey Daniel!

I was getting ready to model this exact lesson for my Q2 workshop and just looking at the slide deck, I was worried about some of the EXACT issues that have been brought up in this forum post. I was happy to see your name in the forum as I follow a lot of what you do and have shared all your awesome insights about Unit 3 and Game Design with teachers in the past.

I don’t get to teach Unit 4 to my students as I only have them for a semester, so I haven’t had the experiences you all have in delivering the lesson and improving it to avoid the exact issues mentioned.

I knew just from reading the lesson plan and looking at our slide deck for the workshop that I would encounter these same struggles teaching it and I want to help my teachers as best I can during the workshop.

Do you have any advice after having taught this lesson over the past year that might be helpful for teachers in my cohort? Do you use the sentence stems and mad-libs-esque activity you mentioned in the post? Just curious and I appreciate any advice you might have.


Hey Wendy,

Glad my ramblings were helpful in thinking about this lesson. A few disclosures: All of my comments above were based on older versions of the CSD curriculum which may be obsolete now since updates their curriculum pretty regularly to make lessons better. It’s entirely possible that this lesson has a better structure than when I made my comments above.

Another disclosure: I also no longer teach this unit in my CS Discoveries class. I did Unit 4 this one year, and have since replaced it with something else. So, I don’t really have any ‘updates’ other than what I did that one year.

With all of that said, here’s my memory of how I adjusted the brainstorming part of this lesson: I did end up using sentence stems & ‘forced’ prompts to get students thinking about particular user groups. And, as a result, I remember being happy with the creativity they showed in designing apps for niche groups. By ‘forcing’ certain arbitrary communities, it shifted the focus of the activity to the work of brainstorming specific solutions & empathizing with specific needs of that community, rather than being stuck in the familiar realm of a teenage student and thinking in generalities. Empathizing with users and coming up with an idea that meets a specific need is more important in this stage than actually ‘making’ an app.

I used a powerpoint and some sentence stems that students pulled out of a hat - here are those documents:

Communities & Starting Projects Presentation.pdf (404.2 KB)
Community Mad-Lib Options.pdf (103.4 KB)

Continuing to reflect on this type of activity, I feel like I would want to incorporate some kind of Design Thinking brainstorm into the latter half of the unit when students are designing the ‘real’ app. I’ve been able to lean on some local resources here in Arizona - the University of Arizona has some really great resources around Design Thinking brainstorms & challenges. If I were to do this unit again, I think I would show this video on design thinking (shoutout to the U of A Library), then steal resources from the Design Thinking for Educators website.

Hope that helps!