Creative Thinking

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“The world would be a very different place if it were not for creativity. We would still act according to the few clear instructions our genes contain, and anything learned in the course of our lives would be forgotten after our death. There would be no speech, no songs, no tools, no ideas such as love, freedom, or democracy. It would be am existence so mechanical and impoverished that none of us would want any part of it.”
—-Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

I first came across Csikszentmihaly, whom I used to call Mr. López for I could never spell his last name, in 2005 as I was attending some a workshop on the Spiral Action Reading Approach (SARA), which was being promoted in Mexico at that time. That was the first time that I heard about the joy of learning, the flow of optimal experiences, and the role of language as a generator of evolution and revolution.

Since then, I have been fascinated by the idea that learning a foreign language is the equivalent of a pill that triggers creativity and is responsible for the understanding of new frameworks of thought, comprehension and abstraction. There was an element in this fascination that amplified my discovery cravings: the fact that for acquiring a new language enhanced individuals’ abilities to transmit ideas in a variety of ways; to think of constructions that have not been uttered before; to explore ways in which new ideas can be said in their language; to use a foreign language to speak about their language; to use their new language as a tool to empower learning; to augment the possibilities to generate an unlimited amount of thoughts; and to have another channel to talk about things that are not physically present or that did not even exist. And what this caused is what I call the reinforcement that I needed to move away from conventional teaching methods.

Since then, I have understood the value of documenting experiences. Thus, now I am a firm believer of the need to find ways to record every new idea, experience or procedure that helps my students improve, and that broadens learning opportunities. Now, it is clear to me that I must create learning scenarios in which my students find ways to transmit new understandings to those around us. In other words, this is how I adopted the culture of creativity as a learning habit in my classes.

Creative thinking abilities make use of completely different methods, and empower students to enhance their self-confidence and learning attitude. When compared with critical thinking abilities, they involve a lot more peaceful, open, playful approach. According to Fisher (2005), creative thinking is actually both capacity to blend or synthesize to present suggestions, images, or experience in unique ways and the expertise of thinking, responding and dealing in a creative way characterized by a higher level of development, risk taking and divergent thinking.

In order to make creative thinking happen in class, I have noticed that while resources are crucial for creativity to develop, their role can be ambiguous at times. For this reason, I have become fond of creating habits using an assortment of different procedures that enrich and diversify the learning environment. Many times these habits arise as an accident (really!), as a natural effect of the evolvement of the atmosphere students and I are living, like a chance happening making us think about something in a different way and I then discover a benefit, so I feel lucky in this sense.

I would like to share some of the best practices that have yielded fantastic results in my foreign language class.

These are some strategies towards creative thinking and meeting challenges:

  • Re-think:
Look at a challenge in new or unusual ways.
  • Visualize:
 Picture your problem and its solutions.


  • Combine: 
Make new combinations– in considering options, put them all on the table to find grains of truth or possibility. Then refine!
  • Form relationships
: Make connections–similar to mapping but adding text as to why concepts connect.
  • Think in opposites: 
Often extremes present middle ground where solutions lie.

 Interdisciplinary learning

An idea from an Interdisciplinary Unit Plan between Language B Spanish and Science:
In Spanish, students were looking at abilities and capabilities, as well as at adjectives that could be use to describe exceptional people. The objective of this unit was to address comparatives and superlatives, while establishing comparisons and differences.
In science, students were studying elements, compounds, and mixtures.
The task: students were challenged to create superheroes based on particular elements, or mixtures. Each superhero had to be based on the nature of the element chosen, with powers reflective of the element’s characteristics. Students were asked to write a persuasive piece of writing in Spanish in which they had to persuade others that their hero is the most super of the group.


Examples of work using SCAMPER:

la foto

Example addressing a local problem that needs improvement.
Key Concept: Change
Related Concepts: Functions, purpose, empathy


Here are some classroom activities to encourage creativity with words, objects and pictures. Taken from

1. The ‘Connect’ game

Creativity begins with generating ideas, speculating and creating new associations. As a warm-up or focusing activity play ‘Connect’. Ask a student to suggest a word. You say a word that is related to that word e.g. if the word is ‘football’ you might say ‘goal’. The next child then says a word connected with the previous word eg ‘goal’, ‘net’ and so on. Players take turns. They are allowed thinking time, but can be challenged by any other player to explain the connection between their word and the previous word.
(For a harder version of this game see ‘Random Words’ in Fisher, R. Games for Thinking)

2. Mystery objects
Creativity involves developing ideas through suggesting hypotheses (‘What if …?’) and applying imagination. This activity encourages children to develop ideas that are original and have a purpose, which is to improve or add value to something. It encourages children to ask themselves the creative question: ‘How can this be improved?’
Show a box that contains an unfamiliar or interesting ‘mystery object’ (or a picture of an object). Without showing or saying what it is, describe the object’s appearance (or ask a child to). Ask children to try to visualize what is described, to hypothesize what it might be and then ask questions to try to identify the object. The child who identifies the object must also describe it. Show the object and ask children to reflect on the description given and their ability to visualize it. Discuss what it was made for, and its possible uses. Ask for suggestions of how it might be improved. Encourage creative suggestions.

 An example using CREATE:

Combine : Can you add something else to it? Can you combine purposes, ideas?Rearrange: Can parts of it be moved or changed?
Eliminate : What could you remove or replace – in part or whole? Can it be simplified?
Adapt: Can it be adapted? What else is this like? What ideas does it suggest?
Try another use: Can it be put to other uses – or given a new use if you changed one part?Extend: What could be added – words, pictures, symbols, functions, decoration, logos?

Component I: A Skype conference to enrich perspectives on the topic:Skype session

Component II: A project- A podcast that reflected the conceptual elements addressed in class.

Component III: A blog entry reacting to one of the podcasts produced, personalizing views and information.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 8.03.58 pm

Alternatively, children could select or be given one object to study with a partner
1. They think up as many uses as they can for the object.
2. Their ideas are listed and shared with a larger group.
3. They think of ways to change and improve the design or function of one object (using the CREATE questions above)
4. The group assesses what they think is the most original idea.
5. They draw this new object and prepare a presentation to describe or ‘sell’ it to others.

Children can be invited to assess the value of their own and others’ ideas. Questions might include:

  • Were any good improvements suggested? Which were the best?
  • Did they find it more creative to work on their own, with a partner or a group? Why?
  • Is it important to try to improve things? What should be improved? Why?

3. Drawing games
Creativity involves expanding existing knowledge. This is done through building on existing ideas or thinking of new ideas. Creative thinking will involve both visual and verbal thinking, children thinking by themselves and with others.

  • Squiggles
    Play a drawing game such as ‘Squiggles’. Make a squiggle shape on the board (a squiggle is a small mark such as a curve or wavy line). Show how this can be added to make a complete drawing of something. Draw identical squiggles on two halves of the board and invite two children to make them starting points for their own quick drawings. Discuss the creative aspects of each drawing. Children work in pairs at the activity, then display pairs of drawings. Other children must guess what each completed drawing shows.
  • What might the shape be?
    Draw a simple shape on the board and ask the children what it might possibly be. Collect their ideas and add some of your own. Ask what might be added to the shape to make it something else – what could we do to change or add to it? Invite children to sketch their own picture of something new by adding to the given shape. Discuss their range of ideas.
  • Circle stories
    1. Give children a worksheet of circle shapes. Ask them to draw as many different things as they can by adding details to each circle e.g. face, sun, watch, cobweb etc. Give a strict time limit.
    2. In pairs ask children to compare their collection of circle drawings.
    3. Children choose and cut out six of their circle drawings. They think of as many connections as they can between each drawing e.g. ‘The face is smiling because the watch says it is lunchtime and at this time the spider is weaving a web …’
    4. The children individually, in pairs or small groups create a story incorporating in it as many of the subjects of their circle drawings as possible.
    5. They draft these stories, adding details to make them as interesting as possible, using the circle drawings as illustrations.
    6. The stories are presented and discussed.

(See Fisher R. Games for Thinking for more drawing games to encourage creativity).

Teaching strategies to support creative thinking across the curriculum

Any lesson can develop creative thinking if it involves pupils generating and extending ideas, suggesting hypotheses, applying imagination and finding new or innovative outcomes. Try to include opportunities for creativity in the lessons you teach. Look for evidence of pupils’:

  • Using imagination
  • Generating questions, ideas and outcomes
  • Experimenting with alternatives
  • Being original
  • Expanding on what they know or say
  • Exercising their judgment

The following are some strategies can be applied to a wide range of curriculum areas:

Use imagination
Think of new ideas, speculate on what might be possible and apply imagination to improve outcomes.
Question cues:

    • What might happen if … (if not)?
    • Can you imagine…
    • Suggest an improvement on …

Generate more ideas
Generate many responses, encourage thinking of alternatives and the asking of questions.
Question cues:

  • How many kinds of … can you think of?
  • List all … that could be used for …?
  • What questions could you could ask?

Experiment with alternatives
Be willing to change one’s initial ideas, see things another way, experiment with alternative approaches.
Question cues:

  • How else might you …?
  • Think of five ways of/questions to ask about/reasons for ….
  • List ten things you could do with … (a shape, picture, object, photo, story etc.)

Be original
Think of novel ideas, unique solutions, and design original plans
Question cues:

  • Design a game for …
  • Invent a way to …
  • Think of a way to improve … (an object, game, story, plan etc.)

Example- Planning an initiative in your city:

Example: promoting a campaign


Expand on what you do and know
Elaborate on what you know, build on a given situation, make it more interesting.
Question cues:

  • What might we add … (e.g. to a word, phrase, sentence, story, picture, design)
  • What might we change … (e.g. to make it different, more interesting)
  • What is another way to … (e.g. solve problem, investigate a mystery)

Exercise your judgment
Assess what we have thought/done, evaluate the process and judge the outcome.

Question cues:

    • What criteria should we use to judge whether …?
    • What is good/could be improved/is interesting about ….
    • What could/should you/we do next …?

Creativity cannot be left to chance, it must be valued, encouraged and expected – and seen as essential to all teaching and learning. So get creative – and enjoy it!


Csikszenmihaly, M. (1997) Creativity. Harper Perennial
Fisher R. & Williams M. (eds) (2004) Unlocking Creativity, London: David Fulton
Fisher R. (2005) (2nd ed.) Teaching Children to Learn, Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.


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