Creative Thinking Exercises for Teachers

  • Anagha Vallikat
    Anagha Vallikat

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines "creativity" as "the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas". A teacher might ask, "Why do I need creative thinking? I have a fixed set of ideas that I need to communicate to my students. Creativity or creative thinking doesn't play any part in the picture!"

Sadly, this way of thinking afflicts the majority of teachers at all levels—school, college and university.

However, this notion cannot be farther from the truth. This hesitancy of exploring creative methods to communicate the concepts in their subjects prevents most teachers from being at the top of their game.

It is scientifically proven that learning outcomes in students are invariably better realized by incorporating creative methods in teaching. For example, in 2017, Sugiyanto and others investigated the effectiveness of creative and productive instructional methods against conventional ones. This research suggested that incorporating creative thinking by teachers can lead to a significant improvement in students' learning achievements and retention.

Many such studies prove over and over again the need for incorporating creative methods into teaching. This article presents three creative thinking exercises for teachers that can help them revamp their teaching effectiveness.

Bust your students' preconceived notions

Be it any subject, many concepts are counterintuitive, and their correct explanations are radically different from layman notions. Your students will invariably have preconceived notions, and you must take time to bust them. Instead of just telling them the answers, engage them gently to explain their understanding of the concept and gradually guide them to the correct explanation. Illustrate clearly how their preconceived notion invariably leads to incorrect answers and contradictions. This will require significant creative thinking on your part.

For example, the concept of biological evolution is not an intuitive one. However, if you ask any Life Science teacher worth their salt, they will give you a long list of reasons why the theory of evolution is almost a certainty. However, the most effective teachers don't go about teaching biological evolution this way. They allow their students to voice their opinions about the issue and gently show how these opinions lead to conclusions that are contradictory and has logical fallacies. It is only after having done this will they give out the correct explanations.

It is almost certain that the student will remember such an explanation better than a slideshow listing the supporting reasons for biological evolution. It is creative thinking in engaging the students that makes teachers of legend, those who are talked about long after they are gone.

Use concept mapping\

A concept map is a diagram that depicts suggested relationships between concepts. Concept maps are frequently used to organize and structure knowledge. They provide a very convenient way to have a bird's-eye view of the topic under study. If you don't know how to make a concept map, there are many good articles online that you can refer to.

Making a concept map is a highly creative process, and there are multiple ways of making a concept map for the same set of topics. As an exercise for your brain cells, you can try making different maps for the same concept.

So how do you use a concept map to enhance your student's learning? It is here that your creative thinking will take centre stage. Do not draw a concept map for your students on the blackboard; guide them to make their concept maps and allow them to discover the interrelationships between concepts. Such exercises invariably engage the students leading to excellent retention of the ideas learnt.

Concept maps, if used judiciously, will help you and your students visualise the topic much more effectively. Looking at the same set of concepts in different ways is the most worthwhile exercise that you can make your students do, and concept maps are the ideal tool for that.

Exaggerate!

One of the most effective ways of ensuring concept retention is to exaggerate. Exaggeration helps illustrate a problem or explore the limits of a concept. It is here that your creative juices should start churning.

For example, consider the two statements:

Statement 1: The maximum height that a water column can have, with a vacuum at its top, is ten metres.

Statement 2: Superman is standing on the top of Burj Khalifa and wants to drink water from a bucket kept on the ground using a straw. Assume perfect suction by Superman. Will Superman be able to drink the water?

Don't worry; you don't need to understand physics for the comparison of the two statements. Just focus on which statement you are more likely to remember. Invariably, the extremely exaggerated situation of statement 2 will stay with you longer, that of a thirsty Superman.

Such exaggerations lead to the best retention amongst your students, and framing such exaggerated allegories requires you to don your creative thinking hat.

Incorporating creative thinking in your teaching regimen is a matter of practice and a lifelong quest. Teachers, more than others, can fall into a rut in their professions. However, by just trying to incorporate a little creativity in their thinking and working, every teacher can break out from the chains of monotony. With time and conscious effort, every teacher can improve their effectiveness in the classroom and be that one teacher that students talk about (positively) at their reunions. We sincerely hope that this article has impressed upon you the need of incorporating creative thinking into your teaching routines.