30 Things You Can Do To Promote Creativity

Creativity and teachers

The concept of teaching creativity has been around for quite some time.

Academics such as  E. Paul Torrance, dedicated an entire lifetime to the advancement of creativity in education. Torrance faced much opposition in his day about the nature of creativity.  Creativity was considered to be an immeasurable, natural ability.  Torrance called for explicit teaching of creativity.  He advocated that it was skill-specific, requiring intentional instruction.  His life’s work ultimately led to the development of the Torrance tests and gifted programs throughout the world.

In recent times, there has been a shift towards the increased acceptance of valuing creativity for all learners.  A 2003 TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson discussing this subject reached over 5 million viewers.  It discusses how our current school systems suppress creativity.   He proposes that our current model leaves little room for divergent thinking.

Much of the blame for a lack of creativity, and therefore innovation, can be traced to our traditional educational systems.

It relies on teaching to the correct answer.  An innovative thinking model is needed. Robinson recently tweeted an article about a new study that suggested 80% of educators surveyed preferred creativity to be included as part of learning standards. 

In the same way, David Hughes, founder of Decision Labs and professor at UNC Chapel Hill, argues that innovation is an essential skill for our global economy. In talking about creativity in schools he says, much of the blame for a lack of creativity, and therefore innovation, can be traced to our traditional educational systems.

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Most of the practice of creative methods is being done outside the traditional educational institutions by consulting firms and by persons in companies who have been trained in creative problem solving methods. In universities not much has changed since 1950, when the distinguished psychologist J. P. Guilford in his inaugural address as president of the American Psychological Association stated that education’s neglect of the subject of creativity was appalling.

Adding to this sequence of events is the fact that textbooks are at least three years out of date when they are published and . . . educational systems were the slowest adopters of innovation. Thus, we see that educational institutions need a strong dose of creative problem solving.

What are some ways then as educators that we foster creativity in our classrooms?

  1. Embrace creativity as part of learning.  Create a classroom that recognizes creativity.  You may want to design awards or bulletin boards to showcase different ways of solving a problem, or creative solutions to a real world scenario.
  2. Use the most effective strategies.  Torrance performed an extensive meta-analysis that considered the most effective ways to teach creativity.  He found that the most successful approaches used creative arts, media-oriented programs, or relied on the Osborn-Parnes training program.  Programs that incorporated cognitive and emotional functioning were the most successful. 
  3. Think of creativity as a skill.  Much like resourcefulness and inventiveness it is less a trait and more a proficiency that can be taught.  If we see it this way, our job as educators becomes to find ways to encourage its use and break it down into smaller skill sets.  Psychologists tend to think of creativity as Big-C and Little C.  Big C drives big societal ideas, like the Civil Rights movement or a new literary style.  Little C is more of a working model of creativity that solves everyday problems.  Both concepts can be included in our classrooms.
  4. Participate in or create a program to develop creative skills.  Programs like Odyssey of the Mind and Thinkquest bring together students from around the world to design creative solutions and bring them to competition.
  5. Use emotional connections. Research suggests that the best creativity instruction ties in the emotions of the learner.  In the “Odyssey angels” program students can devise a solution to help their local community, such as helping homeless youth. This topic is worthy of more discussion by itself. A blog postby fellow blogger Julie DeNeen gives some valuable information about this type of teaching.

    Research suggests that the best creativity instruction ties in the emotions of the learner.

  6. Use a creativity model.  The Osborne-Parnes model is oldest, widely accepted model.  It is often used in education and business improvement. Each step involves a divergent thinking pattern to challenge ideas, and then convergent thinking to narrow down exploration. It has six steps:
    • Mess-finding. Identify a goal or objective.
    • Fact-finding. Gathering data.
    • Problem-finding. Clarifying the problem
    • Idea-finding. Generating ideas
    • Solution-finding. Strengthening & evaluating ideas
    • Acceptance-finding. Plan of action for Implementing ideas
  7. Consider how classroom assignments use divergent and convergent thinking.  Standardized tests do a great job of measuring convergent thinking that includes analytical thinking or logical answers with one correct response.  Divergent thinking considers how a learner can use different ways to approach a problem.  It requires using association and multiplicity of thought.  We should design assignments that consider both types of thinking models.
  8. Creativity flourishes in a “congenial environment”.  Creative thinking needs to be shared and validated by others in a socially supportive atmosphere.  Researcher Csikszentmihalyi (1996) coined this term, to explain the importance of reception from others.  Others consider how to create communities that foster social creativity to solve problems.
  9. Be aware during discussions.  You know that student who often asks the question that goes a bit outside the lecture?  Well, engage him.  Once a week, intentionally address those questions.  Write them down on an assigned space in the board to go back to later.  Validate their creativity. 
  10. See creativity in a positive light.  In his blog in Psychology Today, Eric Jaffe talks about research that suggests see creativity in a negative light.  If we are teaching to creativity, we need to embrace it too.  Reward students for thinking of problems in varied ways by recognizing their efforts. 
  11. Try the Incubation Model.  E. Paul Torrance designed this model.  It involves 3 stages:
    1. Heightening Anticipation: Make connections between the classroom and student’s real lives.  “Create the desire to know”.
    2. Deepen Expectations: Engage the curriculum in new ways.  Brainstorm and create opportunities to solve a novel problem.
    3. Keep it going: Continue the thinking beyond the lesson or classroom.  Find ways to extend learning opportunities at home or even the community.
  12. Use a cultural artifact.  Research from experimental social psychology finds that artifacts can enhance insight problem solving.  Consider using an ordinary object, such as a light bulb used in the study or a historical artifact to have students think about living in a particular time period.
  13. Establish expressive freedom.  The classroom environment must be a place where students feel safe to share novel ideas.  Allow for flexibility and create norms that foster creative approaches.
  14. Be familiar with standards.  Knowing the standards inside and out helps find creative solutions in approaching a lesson.  Teachers can adapt them and work within the current framework.  Some topics allow for flexibility and use of creative approaches.
  15. Gather outside resources.  There are some great resources to read related to creativity.  The University of Georgia, provides an array of amazing resources related to how to foster creativity in practical ways.  It also gives a list of programs and organizations that can help with the process.
  16. Allow room for mistakes.  Sir Ken Robinson said it best when he said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” 
  17. Allow space for creativity.  Design some classroom space for exploration, such as a thinking table, a drama stage, a drawing table, or a space for groups to discuss ideas.
  18. Give students time to ask questions.  Organizations such as CCE (Creativity, Culture, Education) suggest teachers incorporate opportunities for students to ask questions.  Intentionally design lessons that allow for wondering and exploration.
  19. Creativity builds confidence.  Students take ownership of their own learning.  Think of ways where students might design a project.  For instance, for the history requirement, I suggested students of both fifth grade classes create an exhibition of their final projects.  The students were so proud of their final work and learned from others presentations. Parents and community members were happy to see students take ownership of their learning.
  20. Encourage curiosity.Consider what is important to students. Student interest are a great place to start on what drives their own thinking tank.  Find inspiration from their world.  Creativity is intrinsic in nature.  Try to step into their viewpoint to find what motivates them.

    Student interest are a great place to start on what drives their own thinking tank.  Find inspiration from their world.

  21. Structure is essential.  Studies, such as a meta-analysis by Torrance suggest that creativity instruction is best with clear structure.  For instance, consider the guidelines of the standard curriculum objectives and add these to the design.  For example, reading considers communication, comprehension, listening, writing and reading.
  22. Observe a working model of creativity.  Visit a creative classroom or watch a video about how a creative classroom works.  The “Case for Creativity in School” is an excellent video that educators can watch to see how creativity might play out in a classroom.  This school adopted a school-wide approach to recognize students.
  23. Consider the work of current experts in the field.  Sir Ken Robinson is an internationally renowed creativity and innovation expert.  His work is used to meet global challenges, renovating education, business, and government organizations to implement his strategies.  His books and TED talks are great places to generate teaching ideas.
  24. Explore different cultures.  Culture is an excellent vehicle for inspiring creative thinking.  In Thinking Hats & Coloured Turbans Dr. Kirpal Singh discusses how cultural contexts are central to creative endeavors.   You can discuss how collaboration between cultures, such as in the space program, produces unique, novel ideas.
  25. Find ways to incorporate and integrate art, music and culture.  A recent report prepared for the European commission considered that creativity is a central force that shapes our culture.  With the changing times we live in, the report suggested that society is enriched by cultural-based creativity.
  26. Use a collaborative creative thinking model to solve classroom problems.  For instance, read a paragraph and then have groups discuss a list of questions.  Collaborative problem solving is catching on quickly.  In fact, many business schools have implemented creative thinking models into their curriculum. 
  27. Design multidisciplinary lessons when possible.  When teaching geometry, I designed a lesson called, “Geometry through Art”.  It included works of Art to show fifth graders their application to everyday geometric concepts.  The result was astounding.  I never thought that the subject matter would be so successful.  I designed an entire unit that focused on how different concepts rely on geometry.  I even asked the Art teacher to help reinforce those concepts in class.
  28. Tapping into multiple intelligences is key.  Creativity requires us to use different parts of our brain.  We often bridge connections between seemingly unrelated areas to make new concepts emerge.  Allow students to use their strengths to find new ways of approaching a topic or solving a problem.  You might be surprised with what they come up with.
  29. Understand that creativity is important to students’ future in the job market.  Paul Collard for Creative Partnerships, discusses how 60% of English students will work in jobs that are not yet created.  In today’s market, students must largely be innovative and create their own jobs.  Collard suggests teachers focus on teaching particular skills or set of behaviors, rather than preparing students for specific careers. 
  30. Teach creative skills explicitly.  According to Collard, “Creative skills aren’t just about good ideas, they are about having the skills to make good ideas happen.”  He suggests creative skills should include 5 major areas:
    • Imagination
    • Being disciplined or self-motivated.
    • Resiliency
    • Collaboration
    • Giving responsibility to students.  Have them develop their own projects.

In a recent article, What Would Dr. E. Paul Torrance Do?:  A Legacy for Creative Education, the author considers what lies in the future of creativity in our schools?

Retired professor Berenice Bleedorn says we should continue his legacy of sharing information and practice “the art of creative thinking”.  We must continue to advocate for its use and move against the current or as Torrance himself called them, “the powers that be”.  After all, teachers are the real driving force behind the creative thinking in our schools.

If our schools are lagging behind, we must be the creative minds that urge our students to be curious and seek new answers.  


Miriam Clifford holds a Masters in Teaching from City University and a Bachelor in Science from Cornell. She loves research and is passionate about education. She is a foodie and on her time off enjoys cooking and gardening. You can find her @miriamoclifford or Google+.

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32 Comments on “30 Things You Can Do To Promote Creativity

  1. Thank you for the comment! In this article, I tried to tie together the research-based best practices and recent ideas that are emerging in the literature. The information on this topic is so extensive and complex that I was glad to hear that I did a good job. Coming from an educator who has 40 years of experience in the education field, as I saw on your website, that is really an honor. Thank you!

    I wanted to briefly consider how creativity came into the limelight with the dedication of E Paul Torrance who was a catalyst for gifted programs. One person asked me in regards to creativity an interesting question: Is teaching creativity a bit of an oxymoron? Well, I think that if we consider gifted programs, they actually promote creative thinking and teach students it’s okay to think outside the box. It really is an interesting field and one worthy of much discussion. The discussion on creativity will continue in future blogs.

  2. I’m delighted to read of your interest in developing creativity in schools–in and out of gifted programs. You’ve given your readers a lot to think about!

  3. This is a very comprehensive article. I love the friendly voice as you gave me the whole picture of the most forgotten set of skills in our classroom. Usable ideas for all. Thanks.

  4. Your articles helped me a lot. I am actually very interested in promoting creativity among my students; hence, I have decided to do a research on this topic.
    Thank you very much. I hope you will write something about the importance of literature-based instruction to enhance students’ creativity.
    I am a Filipino teacher who is teaching in a public secondary high school.
    Again, thank you.

  5. Melvin, I will be interested to see what Miriam says about this. One thought is that your subject “literature-based instruction” is perhaps mis-named. Literature is a fabulous way to get a person thinking creatively. If you read a story, you have to imagine. A good story touches your emotions which are critical to creative thinking and decisionmaking, etc. But “instruction” tends to be antithetical to education. The instruction would be imbedded in acticities where the students talked with each other about what the literature triggered in them, to ask questions, explore other worlds, write their own stuff.

  6. Melvin-Thank you for your interest in my ideas! In my teaching program, I had a veteran teacher of 20+ years suggest creating learning opportunities imbedded in multicultural literature units. Using literature from different cultures is great because it can draw inspiration from diverse cultures and speak to children of all backgrounds.

    Literature, if approached as the art that it is, provides ample opportunity for students to create meaning and engage their creative side. Just this week, my daughter’s own teacher did a unit on Space exploration, which included a children’s novel about visiting the moon and was expanded into a writing and science lesson. My daughter was able to relate this to women’s involvement in Space exploration, from her personal experience visiting the NASA museum in Houston. The result was a very engaged child, who really enjoyed learning and brought home an amazing report and story about her school days. I think this is what literature does-it draws us in and makes us want to learn more. It truly explores what children like and want to learn about.

    I tend to agree with Rick that the term “literature instruction” can be a bit contradictory at times. As Rick said above, I believe it’s about finding “what the literature triggers in them”. We want students to find their own meanings in literature, rather than lead them to our own conclusions. I think it is all in the approach and their are great ways to use literature as a creative tool that authentically engages students to find their own meaning. I believe that is what true engaged learning is about, having students find a piece of literature that truly motivates them to delve even deeper into a subject, relate something to their own life, or explore a new world or subject area. I think that this topic is worth further exploration, so I will need to look at it closer. Thank you for reading my ideas and please continue to share!

  7. Avoid negative criticism up on your learners and especially when they give wrong trials.

  8. Great summary of the immense amount of research and evidence in favour of creativity as a skill that can be enhanced through education and training. Those are exactly the elements we have incorporated into a two-day training: See http://www.innovativethinkingexperience.com

    I’ll have to connect with you via twitter.

    Thanks for producing such a high quality blog post!

  9. Thanx for sharing this post. As a teacher, I have been trying to develop creative skills with my teachers for many years. I was thinking in publishing some of my best activities (which engage the most and provide divergent thinking), when found this great article. Congrats, sweet job!

  10. Nicely Done Miriam! To share with your readers: The home for the Osborn-Parnes model you described is the Creative Problem Solving Institute. Many of those you referenced are or have been faculty there. http://www.cpsiconference.com is the conference address. There is also an Excellent Masters in “Creativity Studies and Change Leadership” at Buffalo State University, which can be found here: http://creativity.buffalostate.edu/ About 80% of our folks come from that program, as adult learners, before becoming Associate Partners.

    Again, one of the least “sensationalized” and well researched articles I’ve seen in our area for a while. I especially love your point about getting to know the standards in and out so one can… work with them (or around, or under or over)

    Readers can also look into the American Creativity Association (Kirpal and I are on the Board there) to find some additional resources. http://www.aca.cloverpad.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1276400

    I hope these links are helpful!

  11. i m preparing a presentation on creativity in education. As this is very vast topic and i guess its very difficult to make it precise but author has done great job in covering all aspects in precise way…

  12. Would you please tell me what the citation is for the following:
    Berenice Bleedorn, “After all, teachers are the real driving force behind the creative thinking in our schools. If our schools are lagging behind, we must be the creative minds that urge our students to be curious and seek new answers”

    You give no citation or page number and I cannot find it in anything I’ve been able to find on the internet. Thanks so much, barbgiven

  13. This is wonderful and will help art teachers especially ”art teachers” to discover and foster creativity in students.

  14. Fantastic article! So many things come to mind when I think of this topic. Can creativity be taught? Or is creativity simply a mindset or way of life? I agree creativity in and out the classroom is hugely important and that you need to leave “space” for innovative thinking to happen. So much of our time is scheduled and task oriented and the magic usually happens when we give our brain space to just run… I really like the tips of using tech, not limiting the format and incorporating unconventional learning methods to spur along the creative process. We have access to so much great tech these days that incorporating your tips should be easier than ever!

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