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  • Roger Saunders

Teaching creative thinking

Roger Saunders

If, like me, you are fascinated by life hacks, you know the kind of thing, put frozen grapes in your drink instead of ice-cubes (cold drink and a potential snack when you’re done), then you’ll understand the benefits of creative thinking, or perhaps I should say creative problem solving. As I teach marketing and advertising, creativity has important applications for my students in terms of future work: new product development; positioning strategies; persuasive communications and so on. But can you teach creativity? I mean, obviously I think you can (otherwise this would be a very short blog post) but it is a question I get asked a lot.

I also have students who announce, sadly that they are not at all creative, something I would dispute since I don’t ever recall seeing, or reading about, a child who lacks imagination or is unable to make up stories. I could argue about the reason why so many people as they grow seem to lose, or feel like they lose, that innate creativity, but that’s for another day. I’d like to focus on ways in which you can help them to discover their own creativity, or provide a creative framework.

I often use Lego in my teaching and it works as a great ice breaker as you can ask students to build something that relates to an interest or a goal and watch them rarely produce something that is purely literal. Often, they come up with really interesting metaphors, such as ladders for success. The blocks appeal to them on many levels and there is usually a high amount of joy in the process (you can do similar things with Playmobil, Play Doh or pretty much any set of craft materials – I’ve used air-drying clay as part of induction).

On a simpler level, there are many drawing exercises that are both simple and yet provide numerous options for discovery. One such requires 20 circles on a piece of A4, which can be pre-printed, or you can ask the students to draw them (they don’t have to be perfect, just reasonably similar). You then give them a limited amount of time to draw as many things using the circles as they can (2 minutes is a good standard) – this may have been preceded by a discussion on how every-day objects can be seen in different ways (like the 2 prong coat hook that looks like a confused octopus).

One of the things I like to do is use materials that already exist in different contexts. For example, there is a card/board game called Dixit that contains a set of cards with illustrations of surreal situations, often a combination of people, things and places. Again, using a brief time-frame I ask the students to construct a story to explain the card. Many resort to well-worn tropes (such as fairy stories) but it illustrates to the students that they are very familiar with the idea of how stories are constructed and therefore find creating a new story fairly easy with a starting stimulus.

You can use more traditional approaches to idea creation, such as mind maps (I usually encourage my students to use Google to help them out finding associated words) or brain-storming, which works best if you start with groups and then slowly move to individual responses, or mood boards, where again there are plenty of ways of searching quickly for interesting images online. There are plenty of other more formal approaches, especially taking an existing idea and seeing what can be changed, such as SCAMPER (Eberle 1971).

So if you’re looking for ways to help students develop creative thinking then don’t despair, there are plenty of resources around and people like me looking to create more.


Eberle, Robert F. (1971) Scamper; games for imagination development. Buffalo, NY: D.O.K Publishing.

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