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How to Teach Creativity

Teaching Creativity
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"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

—Albert Einstein

Who needs creative thinking?

Novelists, artists, actors, and composers need to think creatively—sure. But how about rocket scientists? How about Albert Einstein? Absolutely. Everyone needs creative thinking. It works in tandem with critical thinking to allow you to navigate your daily life.

For example, a friend asks you, "What should we do for lunch?" Without creative thinking, the answer is, "The same thing we always do." Creative thinking reaches out to gather new possibilities, like trying a new restaurant or grabbing a baguette and cheese and heading to a park or taking a walk instead of eating. By the third option, you are completely re-imagining what "lunch" means. Once creative thinking opens up possibilities, critical thinking can choose the best option.

Some people say, "Well, I'm just not creative." That's like saying, "I'm just not strong." Hmmm. Exercise—specifically weight lifting—can make you quite strong, and exercising creativity can make you quite creative. And you don't have to paint or act to exercise creativity. You just need to think differently.

How is creativity "thinking differently"?

Most often in schools, we teach critical thinking—close, careful attention to a topic, using correct technique and precision to arrive at the one right answer. Critical thinking is convergent, focusing attention on one specific thing.

Creative thinking is divergent. It starts at a singular point and explodes outward into possibilities. Creativity has these traits:

  • Flexibility—eagerly working with any concept
  • Fluency—rapidly discovering many ideas
  • Originality—continually creating novel possibilities
  • Elaboration—constantly spinning one idea into more

Does creativity always come up with gold? No. Some possibilities are terrible. "What should we do for lunch?" "How about we rob a bank?" That's a terrible idea, but its one of the many divergent possibilities that the creative mind will spin out. Then the critical mind needs to survey all of the options and choose baguettes in the park rather than bank robbery.

How can I teach creativity?

Present students with problems that have no one right answer. Better yet, present them with impossible problems, which will require them to think divergently to come up with outlandish solutions. By creating barriers to direct thought, you require students to devise original pathways.

To jump-start students' creative thinking, use one or more of the following minilessons:

Minilesson 1: One-Month Miracles

Minilesson 2: Class Mascot

Minilesson 3: Time Surgeons

Minilesson 4: Defending Huck Finn

Minilesson 5: Using Perspective Shifting to Understand Others

Minilesson 6: Writing a Historical Dialogue

Minilesson 7: Solving Problems Critically and Creatively

Teacher Support:

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Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.