Creative Thinking: Fluency

Fluency, Flexibility, Originality, and Elaboration can be thought of as the cornerstones of Creative Thinking. Fluency is all about generating a lot of different ideas. It is a valuable skill to practice because when you have many different ideas you have more options and are therefore more likely to find more viable solutions to your problem. In addition, often one idea lead to another, so by generating many ideas, you are allowing that process to flow naturally.

Some Guidelines for practicing fluency:
  • Write down your ideas as you come up with them.

  • Lists are great, but a web/map format can also work.

  • Write fast, idea, after idea, after idea.

  • Fluency is about generating ideas, not about evaluating them. An idea that seems stupid could contain the seed of something worthwhile.

  • Working in a group can be valuable as people often springboard off of other people's ideas.

Some ideas for practicing fluency with children:

  • Generate many different uses for common items such as a pencil, ruler, or paper-towel tube.

  • Generate synonyms for common words or phrases such as "good job"

  • Generate many different ways to arrange the desks in the classroom (draw pictures).
  • Generate names for a classroom pet, team, or alternative titles to a book

  • Generate ideas for a class party

  • Generate questions about a given topic. This works well at the start of a social studies or science unit.

  • Generate solutions to a reoccurring classroom problem. For example, the noise level is too high during work times or students are feeling that they are not treated fairly during foursquare games at recess.

  • Generate solutions to a regional or world issue such as poverty or global warming.
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8 Ways to get Creative and Critical Thinking into your Busy Day

You have an overflowing curriculum and not nearly enough time to get to it all. But you also know the value of Creative and Critical Thinking. Here are some fun ways to sneak more of them into your day without sacrificing much-needed time.
  1. Start with a Question Put a "Would You Rather...or poll-type opinion question on a corner of the white board each morning with a space for each of the choices. As your students come in, each one moves a magnet with his or her name on it to one of the choices. Your students have started the day thinking about something interesting and you know who is here for attendance.

  2. Wake Up their Brains Always have an activity waiting for kids as soon as they walk in. Many teachers don't and many more choose to use this time for review, which might be useful for you, but is not very inspiring for students. How about a brainteaser, intriguing journal prompt, or challenging logic puzzle instead? Not only does it wake up those sleepy brains, but it also gives your students something to look forward to when they get to school and sets a positive tone to the day.

  3. As an "I'm Finished" choice In most classrooms, students may read silently or write in their journals when they are finished with their work. Consider adding a Critical Thinking Center to your room where kids to find puzzles, brainteasers, etc. Call it something fun like "The Puzzle Place." You might also want to use Task Cards that students can use at a center or take back to their desks. 

  4. On the Back of a Bathroom Pass They are just sitting there anyway, you might as well give them something to think about. A mental word problem or intriguing quote, perhaps. If possible, related to something in your current curriculum. Change them often. If your bathrooms are private to your classroom, put them on the back of the stall doors.

  5. On the Wall Where Students Line Up Seems like kids line up an awful lot. How about posting brainteasers on the wall near the door or drinking fountain? Change them often!

  6. In those Extra Few Minutes Waiting for everyone to come in from recess? Finished a lesson a few minutes before the bell? Have something ready to use during that time. Read a Two Minute Mystery or a lateral thinking story. Ask a question from the Kids Book of Questions. Do a Madlib, or solve some Word Picture Puzzles.

  7. At the Bottom of a Worksheet Add an extra question that gets your students thinking in a different way. For example, if you are having them do a worksheet on vocabulary words for a social studies pioneer unit, add a question asking them to write a sentence about pioneer life containing exactly 9 words. Or throw in a little logic puzzle with a pioneer theme: Mary churned the butter before she got the eggs. She got the eggs after she brought water in from the well. She brought water in from the well before she churned the butter. List the order in which Mary did her chores.

  8. Try a Graffiti Board Put up a piece of butcher paper on the wall each Monday morning. Write a thought-provoking, open-ended question on it. It could be about your class read-aloud book, a current event, an opinion question about something you are studying, or just an interesting random question. Invite kids to contribute to the paper throughout the week.
Creative and Critical Thinking Skills are my specialty. You can find some great ready-to-use resources, both free and for purchase in the Creative and Critical Thinking section of my TpT Store.

Try a Shoe Box Journal

A journal doesn't have to be recorded in a book or on a computer. Here is a great journal project for collectors, pack rats, and reluctant journalists.

Here is what you will need:

  • A box of ziplock sandwich baggies
  • A pack of 3x5 index cards (colors are nice)
  • A pen or pencil

  • A Sharpie or other permanent marker

  • A shoe box
Here is what you do:

  1. Choose a small item you want to write about, ideally one from your day. It could be pencil you chewed on while taking a test, a rock you found on a walk, a note a friend passed to you, dirt from your garden, clippings from a haircut, a key to a lock you no longer open etc. If the item is big or essential in your everyday life, you could take a picture of it and put use the printout.
  2. Write about your item on an index card. You can use more than one card if you have a lot to write about.
  3. Put the card and the object in a baggie.
  4. Seal the baggie and date it with the Sharpie.
  5. Put the baggie in the box. You just made your first journal entry!

Alternatively, you could also thumbtack your baggies to the wall like in this picture, which came from the movie Everything is Illuminated, the inspiration for this project. However, that would be much less practical, though also much more dramatic, than shoebox storage.

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Journaling Inspirations

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Journaling is a great way to explore thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and feelings. Consistent journalists will improve their writing skills as well. A journal can be valuable simply as a record of what has occurred in a day, but it can be much more than that. Here are some ideas for when you get stuck. These ideas are aimed at kids, but many will work for adults as well.

Timed Free Writing Set a timer for a certain amount of time - three to ten minutes is a good range. Then write without stopping. Write whatever pops into your head. Don’t stop to think, don’t erase, just write. Stop when the timer rings. You may be amazed at what you come up with.

Lists Lists are great when you have writer's block and are a good exercise in the fluency - one of the hallmarks of creative thinking. To get the most out of your list, keep going, even after you think you have run out of ideas. Often it is one of those last ideas that is the keeper. Some ideas for lists:
  • Things you want to in the next six months, year, or five years.
  • Places you want to visit
  • What you would do if you were not limited by finances
  • Traits that make a good friend.
  • Books you want to read
  • Books you have read rated with stars according to what you thought of them.
  • Goals for the future
  • Every single feeling you had today
Switch Hands Some scientists think that when you write with your nondominant hand, you access a different part of your brain. Try it. It may be sloppy, but you may also have some interesting things to say.*

Write Around Start in the middle of the page and write around in a spiral until you get to the outside of the page.

Same Start Start a sentence with “I want…” or “I love…” or “I am thankful for…” or if you are in a bad mood, “I hate…” finish the sentence. Then write the same sentence start again but finish it differently. Then do it again, and again, and again. Try to fill the whole page.

Add a Photo Find a picture – maybe one from when you were little, maybe one you took this morning. Glue it into your journal and write about it.

Create in Comics Whatever you want to write about, do it in comics with speech bubbles and caption boxes instead of text. If you feel like you can't draw, use stick figures.

Make a Web You’ve probably done these in school for brainstorming ideas. They also work well for exploring your feelings. Put a word in the center of the page – it could be a feeling like anger or fear, or it might be an event like moving or summer break. Circle it, then write a related word nearby, circle it and connect them with a line. Keep drawing lines and circles with new words and ideas. See what happens.

*Interesting fact: If you were to lose the use of your dominant hand and had to start writing with the other one, your writing would eventually look the same as it does now. The way you form letters is more about your brain than your muscles.

Using Analogies

keyboard : computer : : pen : ____________

Thanksgiving Analogies
Analogies like the ones above require you to analyze a pair of pictures or words to find a connection (or sometimes more than one connection) and apply that connection to a new pair. Doing analogies is a good idea because:
  • Analogies are a great way to improve analytical thinking, verbal comprehension, and spatial skills.
  • Analogies often show up on IQ and placement tests.
  • Analogies can help you to make a point. For example, in his recent Health Care speech, President Obama said that the public option was not threatening to private health insurance companies in the same way that public universities do not threaten private colleges and universities.
  • In the classroom analogies can be used to enhance what you are already teaching in social studies, science, or literature.
  • Analogies are fun!
If you want to learn more about analogies you can go here for basic explanation or here for an in-depth Wikipedia article.

Using Analogies with Kids
So, you ask, "How can I make analogies a part of my child's life?" Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Make them up as a game - in the car, in the waiting room, over breakfast. For example: Cheerios are to box as milk is to ___________ Or for little kids phrase as: Your plate is like a circle in the same way that your napkin is like a ______________. Encourage your kids to make up their own analogies for you and each other
  • Have your kids create some spatial analogies on paper if your kids love to draw, or on the computer if they love using paint, or images on an office application.
  • Better yet, especially for those kinesthetic learners, draw them in chalk on the sidewalk or shaving cream on a table.
  • For teachers or homeschoolers integrate analogies into whatever you are studying. Put a couple at the end of a worksheet just for fun, or put some on the board as a morning warm up activity. For example, if you are doing a unit on food chains you could use: huckleberries : producer : : rabbit : _________ or bear : cub : : deer : ____________
  • Have your students make up analogies for each other. Have an Analogy Challenge by requiring your students to use a specific word in analogies that they create. Or have each student contribute one analogy to a worksheet that you use for the whole class.
  • Use Analogy worksheets. Here are the ones I have developed.
  • Get a workbook of analogies. Thinking Through Analogies is a challenging one.
  • Do them online. Here are some fun ones to try:
Fairly easy: Jeopardy Style Analogy Game
A little harder: Analogies, Multiple Choice and Timed!

Got more ideas on how to get analogies into kids' lives? Please let me know!

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