Sparking Students’ Creative Thinking

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I recently asked my 10th grade ELA students to write down a sentence that they felt had never been written before. Ever. By anyone. I got a lot of blank stares and “wait what ?” in return. After further explanation, some started to make marks in their notebooks but a majority still held their pens and pencils frozen above the paper.

Creativity is unfortunately lacking from many content standards, and yet I feel engendering creativity from all of our students is one of the only ways we’re going to be able maintain the standard of living that this country has gotten a little too comfortable taking for granted. Where else are the new inventions and therefore, new jobs going to come from? (but that’s just a liberal public school teacher talking).

I’m making an effort to push my students to be creative at least once a week, despite the time it takes away from other “musts” on the curriculum map like literary analysis and persuasive speech writing.

Ironically, too many of us take creativity out of our students’ days when they get to high school and then struggle to help them pass a test which demands critical thinking four years later. We don’t see the connection between creativity and critical thought — perhaps because we are not creative enough ourselves as educators to think outside the standards (if standards had a shape, that shape would be a box — although a powerful and educationally important one.)

Next year I plan on infusing these activities more seamlessly into the week’s lessons or at least stick to the same day of the week we partake in them. I know it sounds like the opposite of creative and spontaneous but I do recognize that some students could become alienated from tasks which ask them to do something outside of the ordinary on any given day. The creative world can be a dangerous place for some for those who aren’t used to it. I would rather they go walking in a single file line than jumping head first or never going at all. The divers in my class can be more reckless when they get a full-ride art scholarship.

In the meantime, here are some other safe and quick warm-ups to get the kinks out of a students’ creatively stiff neck:

Activities to Spark Creative Thinking
*Invent a word, write its definition and use it in a sentence.

*Write a sentence backwards — they’re not aloud to write it out correctly first.

*Ask what they wish their first word was — and why. Same for what their last word might be.

*Write a sentence with 10 words and then rewrite the same idea but with one less word until you’re left with only one.

Be creative and invent some more! I leave you with my favorite sentence which has never been written before. Ever. Except by a student in my first period: Birds can’t walk like rain walks even if they were paid to.
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