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Brainstorming for Engineering Projects using SCAMPER


Grade Range
Group Size
2-3 students
Active Time
45 minutes
Total Time
45 minutes
Area of Science
Civil Engineering
Environmental Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Energy & Power
Materials Science
Key Concepts
Brainstorming, engineering design
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Paperclips are arranged in the shape of a lightbulb


Coming up with new ideas is hard! How do engineers design new things or improve existing ones? Engineers and inventors use different brainstorming techniques to help them think outside the box and come up with new ideas. In this lesson plan, your students will practice brainstorming with a method called SCAMPER.

Learning Objectives


Background Information for Teachers

This section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.

The engineering design process typically calls for a brainstorming step where students are asked to think of new solutions to a problem. Some students might struggle with this and find it difficult to be creative or think of new ideas. It might seem like all the good ideas are already taken! SCAMPER is a brainstorming method that asks a series of open-ended questions about an object or process. Think of it as exercise for your brain—SCAMPER alone might not solve a problem for you, but it can get you in the right mindset to think of new ideas that might lead you down the right path. The letters in SCAMPER stand for the following steps:

  • Substitute: what other materials could you make this item out of to improve it?
  • Combine: what would happen if you combined this item with something else?
  • Adjust: how could you make a slight change to it?
  • Modify: how could you make a major change to the object? Make it bigger? Smaller? Change its shape?
  • Put to other uses: what else could you use this object for?
  • Eliminate: what would happen if you eliminated or removed parts of the object?
  • Rearrange: what if you moved the parts around or switched them?

Note that these questions are examples based on the steps of the SCAMPER process, and they might not apply equally in all situations. In this lesson, your students will use paper clips as an example to work through the SCAMPER process. It makes more sense to ask "What would happen if you changed the shape of a paper clip?" than "What would happen if you rearranged the parts of a paper clip?" since a paper clip does not have multiple parts. Depending on the context, you can tweak the questions, using the main steps as inspiration.

Prep Work (5 minutes)

Engage (5 minutes)

Explore (20 minutes)

Reflect (20 minutes)


Lesson Plan Variations

Free science fair projects.