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Practical ideas to teach learners how to be creative

Learners often have misconceptions about creativity, believing it is solely about the visual arts. For some, this can leave them feeling disappointed and disillusioned with this important essential skill. As teachers, we have all heard learners say things like, ‘I’m just not a creative person’. 

This makes it even more important for creativity to have a place in the classroom so we can teach learners the true meaning of this skill. In reality, just like all the other essential skills, we are all able to learn how to be creative and build creativity skills using the Universal Framework

Creativity goes hand in hand with problem solving and is all about generating ideas which can be expanded and improved through the problem solving process. When we’re teaching the next generation of inventors and innovators, creativity is a highly valuable skill to teach and develop.

Here are three practical ways to help learners get started with creativity. 

Communicating what you imagine

Everything in the world has started in someone’s imagination. Yet, while many learners may be able to imagine something and see it in their head, they also need to be able to share their innovations and ideas with others. They can practise doing this in a number of ways: 

  • Talking through it
  • Acting it out
  • Drawing pictures or diagrams

In order to be able to do this successfully, we need to encourage learners to give as much detail as possible. If we leave gaps, others will use their own imaginations to fill in the details meaning they may end up imagining something different.

Learning how to talk through our ideas is the first step to bring our ideas to life. To support learners to practise this skill step, we can ask questions starting with: 

  • What if…? 
  • What do you think…?

By doing so, we can guide learners to explore imaginative answers across different ideas. For example, we can ask questions like ‘what would you do today if school was cancelled?’. 

As teachers, we may like to model our own response to these questions, bringing to life what we are imagining in our own minds. It is useful to structure this process in a clear way for learners to understand how to describe what they are imagining. 

Firstly, we start with giving context – start by telling your audience what situation or thing you were broadly imagining. For example, 

  • I imagined that I did not have to go to school today.
  • I imagined what to do on holiday.
  • I imagined what to do if I won the lottery. 

We then start to give further detail to fill in the gaps of what we are imagining. We may also want to explain how we feel to add interest to what we are describing. 

We can also encourage learners to express their imagination through acting it out and challenge them to share what they imagine through art. For example, we can ask pairs of learners to imagine that they are two well-known figures and explore how they might interact, as well as share the feelings and emotions that they imagine. 

We can also ask learners to share what they imagine through art or drawing a diagram, in response to a stimulus or question like:

  • How would they rearrange the classroom if they could?
  • What invention would solve a problem in their day?

This skill step can be reinforced in other parts of learning too. We can encourage learners to engage their imaginations during any lesson by giving them opportunities to express their ideas. 

Generating ideas

Once learners are able to share what they can imagine through speaking, role play, and drawing pictures or diagrams, we can help them learn how to generate ideas

To do this, we can support learners to generate ideas in response to a clear brief. Whether short or long, written or spoken, a brief outlines the problem or challenge that learners are trying to solve. It should also set out the success criteria that tell learners what their idea needs to be able to do or answer to be judged successful. 

These are critical as learners need to know what they are working towards and what needs to be included. There is also good evidence that people come up with better ideas when they are working under constraints.

When learning this step, it can be tempting for learners to think that their first idea is their best idea. However, we know that this is often not the case. The more ideas that learners are able to generate at the start, the more likely they are to create a successful solution.

Therefore, when teaching creativity, it is important to encourage learners to create as many ideas as possible in response to a brief. Once they have a list of ideas, they can start to think about which of these ideas fulfil the success criteria and eliminate the rest. 

You may also like to challenge your learners further by asking them to think about how they might be able to combine elements of different ideas to create the best way forward. 

Learning to define success criteria

When starting out, we may like to make the success criteria clear for learners. However, as their confidence grows, we can encourage learners to find out what the success criteria are for themselves. This can be practised across many areas of learning. Teachers can ask learners to identify the success criteria provided, ask or find the information that they need or challenge learners to produce their own.

For example, if we are asking learners to generate ideas for a product or invention, we can encourage them to answer the following questions to produce their own success criteria: 

  • What is this thing trying to achieve? 
  • Who or what is it trying to help?
  • What does the thing already do well? 
  • What could it do better? 
  • Which of the improvements really matter?

Once learners have identified the success criteria, it is then time to generate ideas to improve something. 

To practise this step quickly and easily, you could ask learners to think about how to improve a product in the classroom. For example, their desks or the whiteboard. To challenge learners, we can also ask them to think more widely about their experience at school and at home to identify things, whether products or services, that they could improve.

Further resources to build essential skills

Creativity is an important skill for learners to start to develop at a young age. However, no matter their stage of education, there are always new opportunities to hone their skills further. 

The Skills Builder Hub includes many resources that teach the essential skills according to the shared language of the Universal Framework. Delivering an assembly or short lesson on creativity is an excellent way to start teaching creativity in an explicit and engaging way. You may also like to deliver a Challenge Day, a premium resource designed to give learners a practical way to apply their creativity. You can sign up for free as an individual teacher or join us as a school or college on an Education programme.