How important is it to develop pupils’ creativity? Do you believe that it is possible to become more creative? How much time and effort are you prepared to put into the work?

The ideas in this article focus on pre-requisites of developing children’s creativity. I hope they will kick-start your own creative thinking when working towards a more creative school. I believe the starting point must be an environment full of encouraged self-belief.

To be able to develop children’s creativity we need to begin with a review of our own attitudes and beliefs and then come up with ideas and specific activities inspiring creativity; these may be complemented other people’s ideas of other people, e.g. exchange ideas, talk to other teachers, go to workshops, read books.

1. Make sure children believe that they can indeed be creative.

  • Tell children that everyone has the capacity to be creative, that creativity is a universal trait. Ask them to think about ways in which they have been showing their ability to be creative ever since they can remember. Have them talk about their drawings, poems, imagination, including the stories they have been making up, the ways they play, the conversations they have with people in their heads, things they have built or made when playing, ideas they come up with.
  • Work on raising children’s self-esteem and their belief in themselves (see recommended materials 3).
  • Introduce activities proving to children beyond any doubt that their minds are different than other people’s minds, that they are absolutely unique. Emphasise that there is nobody exactly like they are in the whole world, that they are special and that everybody else is also special (see recommended materials 3 and 4 ).

2. Create a relaxed environment in which children feel safe to take risks and get things ‘wrong’.

Seriously review your own and children’s attitude to mistakes.

  • Everybody, absolutely everybody, makes mistakes.
  • In order to learn something we must make some mistakes.
  • We need to anticipate making mistakes in whatever we do.
  • It is important to learn from the mistakes we make. We frequently get things wrong many times, not just once!
  • ‘Mistakes’ were sometimes responsible for unexpected scientific discoveries (e.g penicillin).

Tell your pupils Edison’s story:

When Thomas Edison was seven years old, his teacher said he was too stupid to learn. Yet he became one of the most famous scientists and inventors! As Edison pursued inventing the light bulb, he tried more than 2,000 experiments before he got the electric bulb to work. A reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. Edison responded: ‘I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2,000 step process.’

Adopt and consistently use constructive ways of responding to learners’ mistakes and replace some of the unhelpful responses with more encouraging ones. Remember that the tone of your voice may be even more important than the words!

Responding to an incorrect answer you might say:

  • You’re close; would you like to re-think or re-calculate the result?
  • This sounds interesting…let’s think in what situation this would be right.
  • Well…what do you think would need to happen for this to be right?
  • Can you think why this is not quite right?
  • Almost there… any other suggestions?
  • This answer could be right, provided…

From time to time introduce in your class an error-free activity, i.e. an activity in which every answer is possible, every answer is ‘correct’ (see recommended materials 2, 3 and 4).

Introduce a light-hearted attitude to mistakes by making them acquainted with their ‘Mistake Monsters’. This activity has proved many times to be very effective! (see recommended materials 3).

3. Make a habit of looking for ‘another right answer’.

Change the way you ask questions and modify your expectations.

  • Ask more questions to which there is evidently more than one correct answer; expect pupils to give two or three possible answers, solutions, sentence or story endings.
  • Once a question has been answered, say ‘and now let’s look for another possible answer. For example: 2 + 2 = ? How many answers are possible? (4, 3+1, 10-6, etc).’

Even if nobody does find more answers, your question will stimulate their thinking and awaken an attitude of searching for more possibilities.

As often as it is appropriate, use Edward de Bono’s Plus Minus Interesting thinking exercise (see recommended materials 2).

4. Encourage children to re-visit and re-examine the rules and, if appropriate, recommend changing them.

Discuss with pupils the reasons why we have rules, as rules are everywhere; they govern every aspect of our lives. In your discussion talk about different kinds of rules: rules which protect people’s life, safety, health, values, rights, comfort, etc. etc.

Decide together which rules must stay, should stay, could stay and which may be changed or scrapped altogether.

Discuss the school rules with the School Council. Evaluate the rules, their effectiveness and find out whether pupils want to change or introduce different rules.

In art , music and dance lessons and when talking about literature, encourage pupils to experiment with breaking rules, going against logic, contradicting accepted thinking and disregarding learnt skills.

5. Provoke creative breaking of accepted patterns.

You should ask ‘what would happen if…’ questions in any lesson – history, physics, psychology – no matter how whacky they appear to be. This way you can take pupils away from their routine thinking and exercise their ‘creative muscle’.

Tell children to read a text-book starting from the last chapter, or to read a chapter starting from the summary. Break the pattern yourself and run a lesson differently from the way you normally do.

The world’s truly creative people were not necessarily conforming students. They were rebels, often pronounced unteachable with no hope for future success. Just think about such people as Edison, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, not to mention many famous artists! You may say that it’s different for a genius, but these people were by no means seen as brilliant, rather as delinquent, dumb pupils when they were at school. It was their non-conformism, breaking the rules matched with determination, perseverance and ambition, which made them who they are: creative and successful people.

6. Find the right balance between teaching skills and inspiring creative expression.

Apart from teaching valuable skills, encourage pupils to express themselves through dance, music, art and language.

1. When teaching art provoke a new way of looking at things from a distance (draw an object as if seen under the microscope and 500m away):

  • in an unrealistic colour;
  • through a distortion of shape;
  • by humanising things (furniture);
  • from a perspective (from birds-eye view, from under the object).

2. When teaching music, make music their language:

  • get the children to improvise a song from a poem (of their own?);
  • encourage them to play improvised musical dialogues;
  • make improvisation ‘fun’, show pupils that it is OK to play with sound in a silly way; this will melt away the resistance and embarrassment many children may feel.

3. When teaching dance:

  • have children create their own dance routines;
  • encourage children to improvise on a regular basis and develop sensitivity to the music they are dancing to;
  • inspire pupils to choose their own music and improvise a dance which becomes one with the music;
  • encourage children to tell a story through a dance.

4. When teaching writing:

  • encourage pupils to express their imagination, their dreams, their feelings and their thoughts through poems, stories, plays.

7. Teach children how to suspend all judgement

  • Make or draw a device with two pictures: one representing CREATIVITY and the other JUDGEMENT. For example, this could be a console with a picture of a judge (or other symbol of evaluation) and a picture of a paint box (or another symbol of creativity such as a light bulb).
  • Under each picture there are two buttons: ON and PAUSE. When the time is right to be creative, we ‘press’ the PAUSE button below the picture of the judge and the ON button below the one representing creativity.
  • Have a JUDGE prop; it may be a picture of a judge, a soft toy or anything which will symbolize judgement. Encourage children to put it in a drawer or a box for the duration of a creative activity. They may bring the Judge back when they finish.
  • Use Edward De Bono’s hats; the green one for creativity and the black one for judgement (see recommended materials 1.) Have children put their green hats on while they engage in creativity and then put on their black hats when they want to evaluate what they have done. (If children you are working with are very self-critical, use the black hat sparingly.)
  • Introduce non-evaluative activities as often as you can – allow freedom of expression and appreciate children’s imagination. Have children thinking about solving a problem and tell them that all crazy ideas are welcome; the crazier the better!
  • Evaluating ideas comes as the next step. Allow the slow thinking, dreamy, playful mind the time it needs to brew new ideas.
  • Mention a problem, a task or a need for action before the weekend, leaving the seeds to germinate in children’s minds. Remind them about it a few days later and once again leave it for a while. Some time later tell children to put on their creative hats and come up with ideas as to what could be done. All ideas, including the most outrageous, are welcome!
  • Encourage children to find their best ‘creativity spot’, be it physical or imaginary. Ask them to draw or describe in writing, a place they find really good for coming up with creative ideas. Tell them they can always go to this place, if not physically then in their minds, whenever they want to think creatively. TEX

Recommended materials:

  1. Edward de Bono. Six Thinking Hats
  2. Edward de Bono. The Thinking Course
  3. Eva Hoffman. The Learning Adventure
  4. Eva Hoffman and Susan Norman. Stepping Stones – First Lessons in Accelerated Learning
  5. Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack
  6. SARK. A Creative Companion

Recommended books:

  • Harry Alder. CQ Boost Your Creative Intelligence
  • Guy Claxton. Hare Brain Tortoise Mind