Anne de A’Echevarria looks at three practical ‘creative thinking tools’ for classroom use
We all have a natural capacity to imagine, think speculatively and make bold connections between ideas. However, as children grow older, this capacity is often dulled whether due to an overdose of high-stakes testing, fear of failure, anxiety or peer pressure.
The thinking tools that we will look at over the coming weeks are collaborative and fun. They aim to reduce the anxiety felt by many students when faced with a creative task – an anxiety that leads them to ‘play safe’. They are specifically designed to help students gain the confidence to think past the first ‘safe’ ideas they come up with and develop personally novel and innovative solutions.
Thinking tool no. 1: Kick Cards
Kick Cards contain random words and/or pictures that can be used to trigger fresh ideas or new perspectives during problem solving.
When challenged to come up with design ideas in D&T, or to write a story or poem, to produce an advert or slogan, or even to find a solution to an everyday problem, many of us find it very difficult to ‘think outside the box’ – and move beyond safe, conventional approaches.
The Kick Card is a powerful lateral-thinking technique which serves to ‘kick’ you out of existing unproductive patterns of thinking and onto a new track. It is by far the simplest of all creative techniques and can often lead to startling creative leaps.
Kick Cards: instructions
Start off by summing up the issue or problem you are trying to resolve in the form of a question. This focuses your thinking. For example:
1. What would an eye-catching hat for a teenage girl look like? (D&T). How can we solve the graffiti problem? (school council). What would be a good slogan for a charity campaigning against child labour? (geography; citizenship).
2. Select a Kick Card at random from the pack. It is important to use the first word you find. This new input will force you to look at the problem in a new way.
3. Take the word/picture you have selected and jot down any words that come to mind that describe it, or that you associate with it. For example: BANANA: yellow; sunny; squashed; soft; crescent moon; canoe; milkshake; healthy; monkey; tropical.
4. Use your list of words as a springboard to help you think of new solutions to the problem you are trying to resolve. Take each word in turn and try to apply it to the problem at hand.
Kick Cards: example outcomes
Below are some ideas generated by secondary students using the Kick Cards:
|The problem||Kick Card and associated words||Possible solutions|
What would an eye-catching hat for a fancy dress party look like? (D&T)
What would be a good slogan for a charity campaigning against child labour? (geography)
BANANA: yellow; sunny; squashed; soft; crescent moon; canoe; milkshake; healthy; monkey; tropical.
CAT: purring; soft; clever; curled up in front of the fire; nine lives; scratching.
A tall cone-shaped hat like an upside down knickerbocker glory, decorated with fruit and multicoloured ice-cream scoops.
A moon-shaped hat decorated with stars in a soft velvety material.
Smart rug, ragged child: think before you buy!
A cat has nine lives; a child doesn’t.
Kick Cards: teaching tipsYou could introduce the idea of a Kick Card by modelling the technique in front of the class and allowing them to hear you working aloud. You could use one of the examples in the table above. Or, if you are feeling brave, choose a problem or task that the students themselves might be familiar with, ask a student to pick a Kick Card for you, and work ‘live’ with whatever card is selected!
Other techniques for generating ‘random inputs’ include:
- Close your eyes and point to a random place on a page of text in a magazine, newspaper or dictionary. Nouns that can be seen or touched (eg ‘lighthouse’, ‘cat’) work best, rather than concepts (eg ‘fairness’).
- Make up your own list of 60 words. Look at your watch and take note of the seconds. Use this number to get the word.
- Use pictures cut from various pieces of advertising material and magazines. You will often find that the ambiguity of a picture will generate even more creative ideas than just a random word input.
Thinking tool no. 2: The Inverse
The Inverse is another tool for generating ideas. As with the Kick Card, it works by stimulating your brain to think beyond the conventional.
The Inverse: instructions
- Start off by summing up the issue or problem you are trying to resolve in the form of a question, eg: ‘How can we solve the school graffiti problem?’
- Reformulate the question so that it becomes negative, eg: ‘How can we encourage graffiti and vandalism in our school?!’
- Make a list of suggestions (students enjoy this part!), eg: provide free paint; give students lots to complain about; take away all opportunities for self-expression in lessons; deny students any individuality; don’t make an effort with the décor of the school; don’t give students anything to do in break times or after school.
- Look at the suggestions and turn them back to positive again, both to generate ideas and trigger further ideas, eg: create a special graffiti wall; invite graffiti artists in to give lessons; staff and students to explore contentious issues together in depth – these could be represented in pictures; encourage a strong sense of personal identity; provide students with choice in their learning; create a games room and a sports league; etc.
Thinking tool no.3: Double Six
Double Six is another ideas generation technique involving a 6×6 template and the use of dice. It is a useful tool to help students develop ideas for a story or piece of drama. It can also help students to make connections between ideas – such as key words or concepts from a particular topic or subject.
Double Six: instructions
For developing ideas for a story or piece of drama:
- You will need to pick two parameters – one for the horizontal x-axis and the other for the vertical y-axis. The example shown here focuses on developing characters for a piece of fantasy writing using the parameters: attractive/repulsive and good/evil.
- Each group of students has a Double Six template and a pair of dice which they take it in turns to roll. Say you threw a six and a three, use the grid as a matrix and, starting at the bottom left corner, count six along and three up to find where they intersect. You will now have to create a character suggested by this grid square.
- Keep rolling the dice for a specified period of time or until you have brainstormed as many characters as you need. You can then begin to create possible links or relationships between them.
For brainstorming different settings, possible parameters might include wet/dry; hot/cold or flat/mountainous.
An alternative use of Double Six encourages students to find connections between key words or concepts from a particular topic:
- Fill all the grid spaces with the key words – you could do this as a whole-class activity to allow for a bit of judicious editing on your part.
- Each group of students has a Double Six template and a pair of dice which they roll twice to select each word. Say you threw a double three, use the grid as a matrix and, starting at the bottom left corner, count three along and three up to find where they intersect. This will be your first word. Repeat to discover the second word.
- Now think up as many connections as you can between the two words.
As an alternative, you might prefer to use a three-sided spinner and a 3×3 grid with just nine key words for students to focus on.
Talking about creative thinkingLanguage to help your students talk about their experiences might include:
generate develop adapt refine combinetransform synthesise blend seek alternatives imagine
visualise invent compose think laterally create
Ask your students what they think about the creativity techniques:
- Did you find these techniques helpful or did they get in the way?
- Can you see a use for any of the techniques in other subjects or in the real world?
Other possible talking points:
- What does ‘being creative’ mean?
- What does it feel like?
- Can you be creative in any subject?
- What helps you to be creative? What makes it hard to be creative?
- What could your teachers do to help you become more creative?
This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009
About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.