Creativity is one of the four skills of 21st century thinking, and there is a large field of knowledge on how to support and develop creativity for learners. In an address to the American Psychological Association in 1950, J.P Guildford introduced the need to recognize creativity as an important skill, something that could be developed and shouldn’t be considered an innately present talent. In 1970, researcher and professor, Edward de Bono published Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, in which he introduced a variety of strategic techniques that can be used to develop and engage with lateral or divergent thinking—one aspect of the skill of creativity.
These lateral thinking techniques provide a foundation that can be used to develop and structure problem solving that maximizes the number of new and novel ideas created, helping to build creative thinking skills. In this blog post, I’ll provide three techniques you can use with your English language learners.
While there are many different techniques to choose from, the following are the three techniques based on the work of de Bono I have found to be the most flexible for use in the classroom. These applications are specifically designed to help foster language fluency, refocusing the objective from fostering and building creative thinking to producing many unique and divergent creative and correct conversations.
Random Element Toss and Random Element Spin both work on the same principles: brainstorming the language to be used, organizing it into the graphic organizers, then using coin or pencil to select the language used to complete a cloze dialogue.
Fig. 1 Random Element Toss – A2 Because with Verb Phrases
Fig. 2 Random Element Spin – A2 Making Plans
The Idea Box technique is another way to brainstorm creative solutions to problems. Unlike Random Element, Idea Box techniques continue to build from prior knowledge by encouraging ideation on a topic across many different domains, uses, or experiences. For language learning, the Idea Box is a great way to practice language on specific topics and is flexible enough for both controlled and freer practice that leads to improved fluency.
My adaptation of Idea Box integrates different contextually relevant language into a single activity, allowing learners to practice multiple different language items. For learners working at A0-A2+ this is a great way to bring together language learned in isolated contextualized units. I use Idea Box to integrate related concepts, grammar, or word families into a single, cohesive opportunity for communication practice.
For A0-A2+ groups you can provide the language, allowing for more focus and reinforcing correct use. For groups working from B1-C1, learners can brainstorm and complete the graphic organizers following the question prompts. Once the Idea Box has been completed, learners use the information in conversations or role-plays. Idea Box is easy to scaffold and works well with tightly scripted cloze dialogues or less controlled free form conversation organization models for rich discussion.
Fig. 3 Idea Box — A1 Basic Language for Ordering Food
Fig. 4 Idea Box – B1+ Describing Past Events
My adaptation of Reverse Brainstorming uses graphic organizers to help learners create initial responses to a prompt, followed by ideating on how the initial response would change in different situational contexts. Often, when learning language, we present our learners with models that present correctness in ideal situations where scripted dialogues are often strictly used without change. Reverse Brainstorming allows learners to think about situations in which their responses may change to adjust to practical information in different contexts. This is a fantastic activity for helping learners fully communicate themselves in any situation.
Fig. 5 Reverse Brainstorming – B1 Hypothetical Situations with would/wouldn’t
Fig. 6 When to Break the Rules – B1 Conditionals with Modals
Creativity is an important and useful skill to develop. While the creative thinking techniques I have adapted here may not have been originally intended for English language development, I have found these to be powerful tools to help learners improve their flexibility and control with language. The above techniques and others are invaluable to any classroom where learners need to practice communication and apply previously learned language across domains to improve language transfer.
If you’re curious about using some of these techniques, I’ve curated a collection of some of my favorites, including all the ones described here and a few more, along with complete lesson plans to help you quickly and easily use these techniques in your classroom. Download all of these techniques and more at saradavila.com.
Guilford, J. P. (1950). “Creativity.” American Psychologist, 5(9): 444–454.
de Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking: creativity step by step. New York: Harper & Row.
Do you have a creative thinking activity you would like to share? We’d love to hear about it on our Linkedin page!
About the author
Sara Davila is the Head of Efficacy and Learning for Immerse. Based in Chicago, Sara is a Learning and Language Acquisition specialist. She is widely experienced in the field of education as a teacher, materials writer, and teacher trainer. At Immerse, Sara utilizes her extensive knowledge of 21st century pedagogies and ELT best practices to support the development and implementation of engaging, efficacious, research supported language learning in virtual reality.