5 Creative Thinking Skills & Classroom Application
There are many teachable skills that fall under the category of creative thinking skills. Below, I will define 5 specific skills and provide examples of ways to incorporate these skills into your teaching.
Children are natural imitators. From birth, they grow and develop by absorbing what they see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. By asking them to mimic that which already exists, be it art, poetry, scientific elements, design, music, or anything else, they can learn the basic elements of an idea, just like they do when they are babies observing and mimicking the world around themselves. Then, once they are comfortable with the imitation, give them permission to make it original by changing the elements to something else.
Example # 1: Mock Poetry
When I was in 9th grade, my high school English teacher, Eddie Price, introduced me to the words of Langston Hughes. I fell in love. After reading many poems by the Harlem Renaissance poet, we were asked to write a mock poem about our own experience through the style of Hughes' poem Theme for English B. Of course, poetry isn't for everyone, but I used this lesson in my 7th grade ELA classes when I was a teacher and it is amazing how students who truly struggle with writing can find their own voice through imitating the style of another. Also, there was something a little more meaningful in this poem than could be captured in yet another rendition of the I Am poems they had been writing since 3rd grade. Why limit students to just one poem? If you have a favorite poem, practice how you would make minor changes to the words to have it represent your own beliefs, values, and experiences. Model your process with your students. Encourage those who do have a love for poetry to bring in a poem that they love and create their own mock poem. Within the choice and personalized meaning, differentiation that will be valued by the student lies!
Example #2 S.C.A.M.P.E.R.
S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is a very popular method of brainstorming that students can use to turn an imitation into an original. While there are variations on the acronym, it simply encourages people to look at things and ideas in a new way.
I use this method for a lot of different purposes in my classroom, but when first introducing the topic I start with the common household tool of a whisk. Many trainings I have gone to have used the whisk as a go-to for introducing S.C.A.M.P.E.R., so why not? I have my students study the whisk and its individual elements and then try to recreate it using materials in my MakerSpace, typically various cylinders and pipe cleaners or other wire based products. Afterwards, we brainstorm possible changes that could be made through each of the letters in the acronym. Finally, students are expected to choose a way to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. their whisk and present it as something new to the class in a product pitch or commercial. This was a great kick-off activity for our Invention unit this year.
The S is for substitution; C is for combine; A is for adapt; M is for modify; P is for put to another use; E is for eliminate; and R is for reverse.
Strategy #1: The Alien Gallery Walk
The idea behind an alien gallery walk is to have students consider the following question: If I was an alien who had never before been to Earth and didn't know how to communicate with humans in order to ask questions, would I be able to understand what I am looking at, its purpose, and how it works well enough to recreate it for those on my own planet. Students can leave post-it note questions at the gallery where they can ask for the clarification or elaboration needed for better understanding. This is akin to the revision process.
To add an additional fun and bodily-kinesthetic element to this activity, you may want to incorporate creative dramatics into the gallery walk, having students adopt personas and movements of their own imagined alien species.
There are packaged examples of The Close-up Photo strategy for teachers to use in a variety of curriculum materials. My personal favorite is in Primary Education Thinking Skills Book 1. However, the idea is simple enough for anyone to use or incorporate with a current topic of study and with their own simple line drawing. Within a square (the photo) there are some simple lines that represent a tiny portion of a bigger, unknown picture. Students are asked to elaborate the photo, adding lines, colors, images both inside and outside the original square to show what the picture actually was. While I typically model how to elaborate on one of these images, if you do not you can use it as a baseline assessment to measure creativity. The simple instructions--Add lines, colors, images, labels, and or details to complete this image--give students enough information for a baseline. After modeling elaboration and encouraging unique design and thorough elaboration, ask the students to try again. This makes a good, measurable assessment of creativity because it is very open-ended and it becomes easy to see which students demonstrate more elaboration and creativity because many of the images will look similar to the teacher's model or ideas that other students have shared (piggy-backing), and then there will be those that stand out significantly.
Example #2: Q-Bitz
Q-bitz is a great game that is also sold in a classroom sized set that helps students build their visualization skills through hands-on manipulation. Each tray has 16 identical cubes of two colors, white and another color. Students rotate the cubes to recreate the black and white image on the cards. This can be done as a team building activity or individual or group competition. I have my students time themselves and track their speed to see growth.
Example #4: Rubik's Cubes Mosaics
There is something magical about pulling out a box full of Rubik's Cubes in the middle of class that will catch the attention of any reasonable child. Whether or not a student can solve the cube or not, teaching students to solve one side and use it as a mosaic can be a fun challenge. There are many inspirational images of this skill in action. Below is an example from my class. We did this during a fraction unit.
Example #1: Pentominoes
One of my go-to activities for supporting the manipulation of an image is the Pentomino Challenge. I teach students about tetrominos, and how they are essentially made up of four squares that have been arranged in all possible ways with at least one side completely aligned with one side of another of the four squares. Most students can relate this concept to the game Tetris. I then explain because Pentominoes use five squares, there are more possible combinations with pentominoes than there are with tetrominoes. In fact, there are 12 different configurations for pentominoes. I usually give the students manipulatives like colored tiles and a large sheet of graph paper. They are asked to color in the graph paper to show all of the configurations they can create with 5 tiles. Oftentimes, this activity will lead to conversations about rotation and reflection because they may have difficulty seeing how an configuration presented vertically is the same configuration presented horizontally or even at a 180 degree rotation.
Example #3 Reading Visualization
Another common visualization activity I've done as an English Language Arts teacher is to have students draw what they think a character or setting looks like based on the text. I have also had them draw an image without the text first and put it side by side with an image created using specific textual quotations to support their image. This practice helps students see that sometimes they fill in gaps in their understanding or memories with falsities, and that it is not only valuable, but important, to go back into the text to make sure you remember details correctly before assuming you know the answer to a reading comprehension question.
The image above and YouTube video below are linked to its original location at newspaperblackout.com developed by author and speaker Austin Kleon.
Strategy #1: Blackout Poetry
Going back to my English teacher roots, blackout poetry is a great opportunity for students to practice transformation because they are literally taking a page from a published source and selecting parts of it to see new meanings and to turn it into their own, original poem or writing. The more artistic students can go beyond simply blacking out everything but what they want in their poem and add cut-out features, drawings or collage elements to give the old page even more meaning. If you use a newspaper, rather than pages from a book, perhaps give students the same page from the newspaper, and see how many different blackout poems can be created from the same page. Just Google Blackout poetry to see some beautiful examples of this art form.
Strategy #2: Stop-Motion Animation
Besides being a fun way to have students teach content-based skills, or present narrative, expository, or argumentative writing, stop-motion animation has the potential to inspire students to transform objects and ideas into something new. There are many examples of stop-motion animation available on YouTube, but some of my favorites use mundane objects and turn them into very special characters working together to solve a problem. Our school district uses Google Chrome and students have Chromebooks available at all grade levels, so I suggest using the Chrome Store's app Stop Motion Animator or Google Slides to record and present Stop Motion videos. However, many students with cellphones may prefer downloading their own apps.
In this video, eggs are transformed into heroes, out to save their friend from the fate of being eaten. Beyond that, the eggs themselves have been transformed into clay, and the mundane act of cooking has been transformed into an adventure and a race against time to save a life!
To teach the strategy of close-reading, as well as stressing the importance of not jumping to conclusions, playing a game of Classroom Culprit can be fun and engaging, as well as education. Follow-up with pre-printed, reproducible logic puzzles encourages students to practice the skill in a more text-based scenario. The simplest form of the game can be developed by a teacher on the spot by simply utilizing a triple-Venn-diagram to determine common characteristics of students in the class. For instance, students wearing jeans, students with brown hair, and students who had chips as a snack. The important thing is that whatever characteristics you've selected, there is only one student who has all three. A story about the crime and clues to find the culprit can be made up on the spot as well. These can be seemingly serious or more clearly fictional if you're concerned with student emotional responses or sensitivities. The classroom dialogue may go something like this: "Class, it seems that someone has kidnapped our class guinea pigs this morning, and I have reason to believe it was someone in this class. Luckily, they left some evidence behind. In the guinea pig cage, there was a long brown hair." At this point, students could identify one student who MUST have been the culprit by writing their name on their individual whiteboards and holding the names up. The teacher can see that there are multiple names and that it is necessary to share additional clues. "I also noticed that there is a screw sticking outside of the door frame that seems to have caught a piece of denim, so the culprit must have been wearing jeans. " The students then take another guess at who the culprit was, and there should still be some mixed responses. Finally, the last clue can be revealed that narrows the suspect down to one person in the classroom. It is important to have the debriefing discussion about how important it is not to jump to conclusions because innocent people could be punished.
Example #1: The Family Tree
In "The Family Tree," ideas are built upon one another like a brainstorming web, similar to ones used for pre-writing. It's a family tree because the class creates it together, like a family, and the ideas are connected by common attributes like a family tree. Depending on your artistic skill and available time, this can be displayed as a large wall display, or it can be printed out as a notebook paper sized graphic organizer.
The trunk can be established by the teacher to support the skill, concept, or assignment being presented. For instance, my students recently participated in an Invention Convention and their inventions had to be based on problems. So, the trunk of my tree was Types of Problems in Our Lives.
As a class, we brainstormed as many problems as we could. Then I used the Taba teaching strategy model that begins with Concept Formation to group the problems by common attributes and then give the group a name, which becomes the branches of our tree. It has been a while since I took the course where I learned about Taba's model, but I've linked a general overview that I found on the internet here. The individual problems become minor limbs, and then students are asked to take their tree further by getting even more specific than the minor limbs by adding related leaves to individual limbs. If a group is working on a branch, a friendly competition could be to have the most full branch to add to our tree.
Group or Individual Brainstorming
One of the most important things a student can do to support their own positive education experience is to have many ideas to choose from. The more ideas they have to choose from, the more likely they will be to select one that is interesting and engaging to them, which will increase the likelihood of them doing their best work. However, if a student has difficulty resisting premature closure, they may be limiting their own choices and ability to be engaged in an activity or assignment.
Example #2: The Seed Journal
No matter the content area, seed journals are a great go-to for students who have difficulty coming up with ideas. When I was in 10th grade, I had a creative writing teacher who encouraged us to keep a journal with random thoughts, newspaper clippings, images and other things that we thought were interesting. This became our seed journal. Whenever we were searching for a topic for our writing, we'd go to the journal and browse for a seeds.
Today, it is common for seed journals to be even greater pieces of artistic demonstration, collaged and full of multi-media tapings, ideations and creative manipulations of "found" seeds.
Davis, G. A., Rimm, S. B., & Siegle, D. (2011). Education of the gifted and talented (6th
ed.). New York: Pearson.