In the history classroom as much as the social studies classroom, creativity forms the backbone of learning. Inspiring it can mean the difference between a cookie-cutter essay that checks off all the boxes of your rubric and an out-of-the-park project that dazzles and wows. We’re aiming to teaching creative thinkers with novel ideas as much as critical thinkers with a sharp eye.
So what are some simple ideas we can explore to fire up the creativity in our classrooms?
Turn Your Class Into a Coffee Shop
This one might sound a little out there, but it makes sense. Think about it: have you ever wondered why so many people like to work in Starbucks? It’s that hum and buzz of conversation and interaction. In fact, researcher Ravi Mehta discovered that ambient noise like this can have a positive impact on creativity. While we recommend skipping the coffee, there’s some easy ways you can make your classroom more like a cozy coffee shop. Think about replacing regular seats with comfy chairs and couches (seriously!) or maybe a large shared table or two. Bringing music into the classroom is also a great idea. You can even get creative by adding a fish tank maybe. Almost anything goes this will make the perfect environment for quiet, but sustained conversation… and creativity.
Hold Your Lessons Outside
You probably aren’t surprised to find out that many great minds had a walking habit. You can find quote after quote discussing how walking clears the mind while opening it up to daydreaming. And researchers Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz found that walking, in this case around the Stanford campus, greatly influenced students’ ability to think creatively. Now, you probably can’t simply hold your lessons just anywhere, but most high school and middle school campuses have some outdoor areas that are perfect for brainstorming sessions or literature circles. The short walk is good for the brain, and students really get jazzed about such non-traditional learning places.
Switch Up the Mood
When people are in a good mood, they tend to be more creative. Surprising, right? So how do you make that possible? Thinking creatively (and critically) is a tough job, so whenever you see a way to lighten the mood in your classroom, consider using it. If you decide to go with the coffee shop vibe, think about replacing bright overhead lights with table lamps at each table. Then get bulbs that are softer to create a room that’s laid back for learning. Or if you’re allowed, paint the walls a relaxing color to induce positive moods. And if you’re looking for a less dramatic way to switch up the vibe, a daily, funny YouTube video before class (tied in with your lesson, of course) can invoke laughter that primes your students for learning.
Let Them Draw and Doodle
It might sound counterintuitive, but letting your students doodle or draw throughout the day can really engage the creative centers of their brains. By giving their minds a chance to wander and daydream (when appropriate), you’re allowing them to engage their unconscious. At the same time, drawing will engage their visual and spatial thinking. Combine these two, and like many creative minds through the ages, you have a recipe for creativity. If you’re a little hesitant to simply let your students doodle during a lesson, consider other ways to bring in drawing to your assignments. Creating props for an in-class literary play is one excellent way to bring multiple creative skills together in a fun way.
Speaking of art... what’s more creative than Salvador Dali or Franz Kafka? By exposing your students to art and literature that seems out of this world, you’ll be tapping into works that stretch how the mind conceives that world. Because our minds are wired to try to identify patterns and find meaning, surrealist-like works stretch our thinking even further. Give surreal-inspired assignments like having students write an essay responding to Picasso’s Guernica or creating their own creative poem after reading Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky.”
Incorporate More Video Games into Your Classroom
#Edtech lovers will jump for this one. Some research has shown that video games have a positive impact on creativity. But how can you bring video games into your classroom? From political campaigning to civilization building, many video games today explore educational topics like economic systems, space exploration, and historic events. Not only that, but these games also break the mold of what students expect in regular education, stimulating their interest and their creativity all at the same time. While this one does require some setup and possibly some investment, it also helps them to see that learning is a multi-disciplinary, life-encompassing process. How could it get any more simple than that?