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4 Writing Strategies for Creative Thinking

4 Writing Strategies for Creative Thinking

When your students think creatively, they discover new, original ideas. They open their minds to possibilities rather than seeking expected answers. Creative thinking works hand in hand with critical thinking to help students deepen their learning.

The word creative comes from the Latin word crescere, meaning “to grow.” Creative thinking grows when students are interested, challenged, and motivated. You can foster creativity by encouraging your students to take risks and learn from mistakes. Also, you can use the following writing activities to help students develop four traits of creative thinking: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.


Writer and educator Dan Kirby states, “Fluency is the first consideration. It is the basis for all that follows.” By definition, fluency means “writing and speaking with ease.” It comes from a Latin term meaning “flowing.” This is why fluency is “the first consideration” for creative thinking. Until your students can write freely and get their ideas flowing, they'll struggle to unlock their most creative thoughts.

A simple writing strategy called freewriting can help your students develop fluency. Freewriting is nonstop, rapid writing in which students freely explore a topic. Here's how you can teach freewriting:

  1. Ask your students to write nonstop for three to five minutes about a topic. Time them. (Progressively increase the writing time throughout the year.)
  2. Tell them that if they draw a blank, they should write about not knowing what to write about until something else comes to mind. (The point is that they should not stop writing.)
  3. Tell them not to worry about making mistakes. You won't be grading them for correctness. (Instead, the point is for students to rapidly spin out as many creative connections as they can.)
  4. Afterward, have your students count the number of words they have written. (Over time, their word counts should increase.)
  5. Have them underline at least one idea that surprises or interests them (a creative idea!), or have them exchange their writing with a classmate to do this.

If you ask your students to freewrite every other day, their ability to write fluently will improve, as will their ability to think creatively.

View minilesson: Writing Freely and Rapidly

View minilesson: Freewriting for Writing Topics


The word flexibility comes from a Latin root meaning “pliant, easily bent.” When your students have to adapt or bend their thinking about something familiar and ordinary, they can discover creative ideas that are unfamiliar and extraordinary.

Artists, composers, poets, and authors apply flexible thinking in their creative projects, but so do scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Albert Einstein says that flexibility is a “measure of intelligence.” The Common Core State Standards require flexibility, expecting students to “write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10).

You can help your students develop flexibility by having them write the same piece to different audiences—perhaps one time to their peers and another time to senior citizens. You can also have them change a true story into a fictional one by changing a few key details. To do this, simply ask students to create an extra column in a 5 W’s chart like this. (The extra column fictionalizes some key details and can be the starting point for a short story.)


True Experience

Story Idea

Who? Mark Day Josh Davis and Kim Smith, new friends
What? Went ice skating Went ice skating
When? Late afternoon last winter Late afternoon last winter
Where? On Root River On Root River
Why? To see how far he could get To see if they could reach the dam, which is farther than anyone has ever gone

View minilesson: Writing a 5 W's Story


Originality is the ability to think creatively in an appealing way. The word originality comes from a Latin root meaning “source.” When your students think creatively, they come up with fresh, original ideas. They take risks and discover new territory. Some of their original ideas may work, and others may not. Help your students understand that taking risks and making mistakes is part of the creative process and can actually help them learn.

To help your students understand originality, contrast it to imitation. To imitate is to repeat what someone else has done. To be original is to produce something unique. It may be a cliché, but “do your own thing” is sound advice when it comes to creativity.

You can help your students develop original thinking by having them write a tumble-down poem. First, they create a sentence with well-chosen words and interesting details. Then they insert line breaks to let the sentence "tumble down" the page, forming a free-verse poem.


Marley’s proud head narrows to a spotted snout engineered for eager sniffing.

Tumble-Down Poem

Marley’s proud head


to a spotted snout


for eager sniffing

View minilesson: Writing a Tumble-Down Poem

You can also help your students develop originality by writing a family story and then turning it into a historical marker.

View minilesson: Writing a Family Story and Historical Marker 


Elaboration means “to explain something in greater detail.” It comes from a Latin word meaning “to work out.” Strong writing elaborates ideas with specific information; weak writing is sketchy and general. Just as diners are disappointed in a meal that lacks important ingredients, readers are disappointed in writing that lacks specific details.

Your students can elaborate details in their informational writing to explain their topics in full. The Common Core State Standards ask students to elaborate with “facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.2.B). Your students can elaborate details in narrative writing to develop characters, establish settings, and create drama and suspense. The standards ask students to elaborate with “narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing,” as well as “concrete words and phrases and sensory details” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.B, D).

To help your students check for elaboration, have them ask these questions:

  • Does my writing include a lot of specific details?
  • Are all of my details relevant and important?
  • Do my details answer my readers' questions about the topic?

You can also use writing activities to help students practice elaboration. For example, you could have them write a review of one of their favorite foods or meals. As they develop their reviews, remind them to look for places to elaborate their ideas with what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch when they eat the food.

View minilesson: Elaborating in a Food Review

View minilesson: Elaborating Ideas Using Different Levels of Details