Mar 1, 2011 by Sherrelle Walker, M.A.

Classroom creativity

Think about the workplace of tomorrow. What skills need to be developed in today’s students so that we can ensure their maximum success? While we might not know what their jobs will look like, we do know that tomorrow’s professionals will need to be adaptable, effective learners, and able to think critically and creatively.

To focus on one of these skills, how can we effectively teach creativity in the classroom?  More often than not, we teach students patterned thinking. We rarely focus on teaching them to break out from patterns. But we must.

Edward de Bono, author of sixty-two books, has spent his career pursuing this very subject. His books, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step (1973), Six Thinking Hats (1999) and Six Frames for Thinking About Information (2008) amongst others, have become well-known tools for teaching people how to liberate their creative brains. For us as teachers, Lateral Thinkingoffers wonderful, concrete methods and tools we can use in the classroom.

Many of De Bono’s exercises do what I think of as “de-emphasizing the context” to teach students to think freely outside the box. They present students with situations free of context and ask them to work with raw information to create the context from nothingness.

In one example, he describes how a teacher shows his students a photo of people dressed in street clothes wading through water at a beach (p. 81). The teacher then asks the students to come up with interpretations as to what is going on in the picture. The teacher has de-emphasized the context; the crux of the activity is to develop the context using their imaginations.

In this situation, de Bono says that students might respond by saying that the picture shows a group of people caught by the tide, or a group crossing a flooded river, or people wading out to a ferry boat which cannot come to shore, or people coming ashore from a wrecked boat.

The fact that the photo is actually of a group of people protesting at a beach is completely irrelevant. The author stresses that the right answer is not important; generating as many interpretations as possible is. The teacher has created a safe, controlled environment and activity where students are encouraged to think outside the box and exercise creative habits of mind, free from qualitative judgment. He even goes on to suggest that if a student comes up with a particularly unfeasible interpretation, the teacher should not judge, but continue to question the student until the context for the interpretation becomes clear, encouraging cultivation of the student's creative skill.

Now, imagine how developing this kind of skill might help a student succeed in other areas. What if they were in a physics class and asked to design a car that ran on the power of a rubber band? What if they were asked to write a poem in an English class? In establishing the “habit” of thinking creatively, we have a great opportunity to affect any number of areas in our students’ lives.

At Scientific Learning, we talk a lot about improving skills through brain fitness exercisesthat help develop pathways and establish patterns in the brain to help transform students into more effective readers and learners. In this same vein, we as educators can help our students develop patterns and strategies for thinking creatively, a skill that will surely serve them well as they move forward into their unwritten futures.

To learn more about Edward de Bono and his work visit

Related Reading:

Building Unstructured Play Into the Structure of Each Day

Teaching and Learning with Intent through Guided Reading Activities