Cash in on Learning: Ignite Student Creativity!

In honor of African-American History month and some inspirational firsts, I am dedicating this blog post to igniting creativity in all students.

There have been innumerable contributions by African-American men and women in science, literature, the arts, sports, and economics, to name just a few of the fields of influence. For example:

  • Jan Ernst Matzeliger, inventor of a shoemaking machine that increased shoe production by 900 percent
  • Madam C.J. Walker, inventor of a hair growing products and other cosmetics
  • Dr. Patricia E. Bath, inventor of a method of eye surgery that helps the blind to see
  • Lonnie G. Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker
  • Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut
  • Artists such as Terry Adkins, Mequitta Ahuja, Jules T. Allen, Luther Jones all have contributed to the culture and productivities of the United States

The list of African-American creative accomplishments could go on and on, but this is where I’m going to share ways to stimulate the creative nature of your students. Use all these great Americans and more as examples of what can be accomplished if you are willing to work hard enough to make a difference.

Creative thinking is a divergent thought process. Thinking is essentially the act of making meaning out of learned information. Divergent thinking is basically thinking down the path less taken or coming up with many ideas for ways to solve problems. To be creative, students must cultivate several characteristics, such as:

  • Flexibility in ways of doing and acting
  • Ability to change and adapt quickly
  • Ability to link ideas together in ways not often considered
  • Willingness to ask questions
  • Playfulness
  • Ability to come up with numerous workable solutions
  • Ability to accept errors
  • Willingness to value the process over the product
  • Tolerance for disorder, discord, ambiguity, complexity, risk, and cognitive dissonance
  • Willingness to put forward effort to come up with original ideas

Advancing DifferentiationIn my book Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century, I highlight strategies to help you develop the creative aptitude in your students. These ideas and strategies can be used to connect to the content or outside the content to increase the level of enjoyment in your classroom.

One of the best ways to structure creative thinking in your classroom is to use the four strategies of creativity: fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. Below are ideas that can be used as “sponge activities” (to be used when you have a few minutes left in a lesson, before lunch or recess, or at the end of the day), warm-ups to more strenuous thinking activities, or as “brain breaks” (when you know your students need a little mental downtime).

Fluency: The ability to come up with a lot of ideas

Fluency Activity—Give students two minutes to come up with as many items as they can that are:

comes in pairs

  • Colorful
  • Compound words
  • Three-syllable words
  • Words without an “e”
  • Parts of the makeup of a cell
  • Typically found in pairs
  • Problem-solving strategies
  • Characters Shakespeare created
  • Influential mathematicians
  • And so on

Flexibility: The act of looking at things differently

Flexibility Activity—List one or more of the following flexibility questions or statements and ask students to respond:

  • Create a metaphor that describes our classroom (or your school, city, state).
  • What items could be bought at a discount store that could be used to stop a flood?
  • What items could be bought at a hardware store that could be used to make a dress?
  • How many different ways can you use a pencil (besides as a writing implement)?
  • What items might you find in a garage that could be used to tame a lion?
  • What’s another way of using the power cord to your computer (other than providing power to your computer)?

Elaboration: The ability to provide extensive or extended details to push beyond established boundaries

Elaboration Activities—Choose one or more of the following challenges:

stool wine glass toenail ckipper

  • Make changes, additions, or adaptations to a board game to make it more challenging.
  • Write a prequel to The Three Little Pigs, Romeo and Juliet, or Call of the Wild.
  • Write a technical manual to build the world’s best peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • Using numbers only, give someone directions from your school to Times Square in New York City.
  • A thief has stolen the Mona Lisa painting from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The thief used three items to help her steal the painting: a three-foot stepstool, a wine glass, and toenail clippers. How did she do it?
  • Which month is the heaviest (or lightest, fairest, meanest, fluffiest, softest, and so on)? Why?
  • Which day of the week is the sweetest (or most sour, tiniest, most obnoxious, and so on)? Why?

Originality: The act of being original; Originality is most often considered the most difficult of the four creative thought strategies, but it is probably the most critical because being original is what will help our students stand out in the 21st century

Originality Activities—Choose one or more of the following challenges:

  • Create a new use for your laptop (or smartphone, pen, desk, and so forth).
  • Create a new ending to a well-known fairy tale or story.
  • Come up with the most unusual occasion for writing a love letter to someone.
  • Design a device to clean a messy room.
  • Develop a plan to redesign your classroom (or playground, city, park, and so on).

These ideas can help you develop an environment in your classroom that stimulates and ignites student creativity. Many more ideas are available in Chapter 10 (Creative Thinking: Stepping Outside the Box) in Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

Finally, keep in mind that a creative classroom should:

  • Stimulate curiosity and questions
  • Allow for multiple ways of solving problems
  • Encourage invention
  • Suspend judgment and criticism
  • Practice patience, perseverance, and persistence

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally. His most recent book is Differentiation for Gifted Learners, coauthored with Diane Heacox, Ed.D. He is also author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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