Design thinking is an innovative methodology that’s characterized by a human-centered approach to solving complex problems and generating creative solutions. It’s typically broken down into 5 key stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test, and can be a valuable tool for helping your kids to think critically and relate to others. If this sounds complex or abstract, don’t worry as we’ve gathered 18 creative activities to help ease you and your students into things. Read on for everything you need to know about how to incorporate this approach into your teaching routine!
1. Creative Designers
Brainstorming is an easily transferable and highly essential real-world skill. Help your students practice by giving them pieces of paper that have blank circles on them. Then, give your kids a problem or challenge and get them to fill in the circles with as many ideas for it as they can think of.
Learn More: EdrawMax
2. Curious Designers
There’s no substitute for hands-on learning, so why not give your students an opportunity to try out design thinking in real life? Divide your learners into groups for this activity. After having them read an article breaking down the design thinking concept, ask each group to use the process to design a way to reduce or eliminate bullying in your school.
Learn More: OER Commons
3. Future Design Challenge
Can your kids improve on the status quo? Get them to prove it! Have your students redesign something that already exists as a better, future version. Remind them to think about core ideas, such as how they can improve the object they’re redesigning or use it to solve an existing problem.
Learn More: Medium
4. Empathy Map
Sometimes empathy takes practice! By designing empathy maps, your students can get used to parsing out the differences between what people say, think, feel, and do. This practice helps us all consider each other’s human needs, which generally leads to more empathic understanding and creative design thinking skills.
Learn More: Ideo
5. Convergent Techniques
Working together—even if you’re apart, is what this next idea is all about! This game can be played between parents and children, or between two students. The idea is to collaborate on two paintings; your learners will pass them back and forth so both participants can contribute in turn until the paintings are both finished. This is a great way to start your students with a low-stakes collaborative design thinking task. They can do this in person with paper and drawing materials, or use an online platform to do it virtually and in real time.
Learn More: Aggie
6. Marshmallow Tower Challenge
Design never tasted so good! Have your class break into groups in preparation for this task. Each design team should then be given limited supplies and time to build the tallest structure possible that can support a marshmallow without buckling or breaking. Students’ design methods will vary greatly and the whole class will get a chance to see how many different design processes can result in success!
Learn More: Tinker Lab
7. Float My Boat
This hands-on approach to design will get your kids engaged in learning—and the testing phase of this challenge is a lot of fun! Have them design a boat out of only aluminum foil. Then, test the boats as a group to see which ones float and how much weight they can hold.
Learn More: Science Buddies
8. Yes, and…
Ready for a brainstorming session? “Yes, and…” isn’t just a rule for improv games; it’s also a valuable asset for any design thinking toolkit. Ask your students to brainstorm potential solutions to a common problem using the principle of “yes, and…”: when someone offers a solution, instead of saying “no, but…”, they’ll need to find a way to say “yes, AND…” before they add to the previous idea!
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9. The Perfect Gift
This design project focuses on meeting the needs of a target user. Challenge your students to design a gift for a loved one that would solve a real-world problem that they have. With its focus on user experience, this project is a powerful design thinking tool that can be tailored to different age groups.
Learn More: Edtech Classroom
10. Storyboard Symphony
Roll out the paper and sharpen those pencils! Guide your students in illustrating a storyboard that tackles a problem close to home. Encourage them to doodle their ideas in boxes to weave together a clear and logical narrative. Just like comic book artists, they’ll see their design thinking unfold in a sequential piece of art.
Learn More: True North Thinking
11. Recycle and Reimagine
Get out those recycling bins! Offer your students an assortment of recyclable goodies and let their imaginations run wild. Can they create a robot, a car, or maybe even a miniature city? This activity is not only eco-friendly but will also spark endless possibilities for design thinking.
Learn More: Michele Guieu
12. Role Reversal
How about a day in the shoes of an astronaut or a zookeeper? Encourage your students to use role-play or their imagination to adopt a new role for a day and then engineer a solution to a problem that the person in that role typically faces. Whether it’s an invention for deep space travel or a new way to feed all the zoo animals faster, we guarantee that they’ll be deep in design thought.
Learn More: Service Design Lab
Tune those ears for a sound-based activity! Charge your students with the task of recreating an environment through sound. They can use classroom materials or even their own voices to capture the essence of a rainforest or a bustling city.
Learn More: YouTube
14. Taste Testers
Ready to cook up some design thinking? Let your students combine culinary arts and design by inventing their own snack. As with any design challenge, encourage them to consider the needs and emotions of the people that they’re serving and how they, as chef-designers, can address them effectively and efficiently. Bon appétit, young designers!
Learn More: UXPlanet
15. Emotion Motions
Let’s get emotional, shall we? Ask your students to act out different emotions. Then, turn those feelings into a design challenge. Can they invent a gadget to alleviate stress or come up with a game that sparks joy? Emotional intelligence meets design thinking in this unique activity!
Learn More: ADHD Super Girls
16. Memory Lane
Take your class for a trip down memory lane! Simply ask your students to recall their most cherished childhood toys and then redesign them for use within the modern world. Could a spinning top now generate electricity? The possibilities are as endless as their imaginations!
Learn More: Teachers Pay Teachers
17. City Planners
Break out those blueprint rolls for this next idea! Arm your students with blank maps and a list of urban challenges. Can they design a city that solves the traffic crisis and includes green spaces? Your classroom will quickly become a hub for future urban planners.
Learn More: Team Bonding
18. Textile Transformation
Provide various textiles and ask your students to create a functional piece of art or clothing. Encourage them to think about texture and form, and soon you’ll see fashion-forward designs take shape.
Learn More: Tes