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What is the idea generator? Part One

What is the idea generator? Part One

September 25, 2018

Dear WinkWorld Readers,

In a previous WinkWorld (posted below) I mentioned the idea generator when writing about Lisa and Chyllis and the Becoming a Better Me project.  I have taught this idea many times, and I know exactly where I was the first time I ever heard Steve Krashen mention it, but suddenly I wanted to find his original citation.  I couldn’t find it; Google couldn’t find it; it was not on his web pages, so I sheepishly emailed him and asked for the original citation.  Hours passed. No response.  Finally, Steve wrote back when he realized that he had never written about it–he had only spoken about it.


The idea generator is just that:  You walk around for months trying to solve a problem, and it feels impossible.  However, the ideas are incubating; they are cooking; they are jostling around in our head unconsciously, and suddenly, Bingo!  Someone says something, and your brain shoots out the answer to your problem. 

Well, I don’t have the citation, but I do have a story.


It was 1986, Davis, CA, and Steve Krashen was speaking to a packed room of teachers. There I was in the center of the first row–not wanting to miss a single thing.  I was armed with a pen and my yellow legal pad. 

I had been agonizing for weeks about a Title VII grant, which I needed to write for Davis Joint Unified School District, CA and felt I shouldn’t even go to hear Krashen speak; rather, I should stay in my office and write that blasted grant.  However, sometime during the course of his presentation, he must have said something, which really connected with me, because Bingo!  My idea generator ignited, and I started writing as fast as I could.  The ideas were pouring from my head to the yellow legal pad, and the grant was finally being written.  I wrote pages, and at a certain moment, I noticed the room had become very quiet. 

I glanced down at the floor from my writing, and there were two shoes directly in front of me.  Two men’s shoes.  I looked up, and Steve said to the crowd of teachers: “And, that, my friends is what happens when the idea generator takes off.”

Incidentally, Steve that grant was later funded for the Davis Joint Unified School District. Thanks.


  • Pam Frankin

    So I’m thinking two things about this idea…first, my oldest son, who teaches Python programming language for Twitter, spent a number of years programming for several different companies. I went to visit him at work one day and he had three computer screens going… two with his programming work and the other with an Alton Brown cooking show going. When I walked in he was sitting in a computer chair leaning back and practicing a guitar riff. I laughed, but he explained that as he was working out the programming sequence/solutions, his brain needed to let go of the intense focus so the answers could come. That sounds a lot like the idea generator in process. Secondly, that leads me to wondering if part of the struggle with some students is that so much is thrown at them without any “generator” time included…or very little, and then we change subjects and do it all over again…frustrated that the students aren’t “getting it.” The concept of “brain breaks” is great, but maybe we also need to include “generator time” in our educational practice.

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