How do you encourage your students to use their imaginations? Creativity is one of the most important 21st Century Skills – and also one of the most misunderstood.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not just about coming up with ideas. It’s also about evaluating and improving existing ones, and brainstorming multiple solutions to problems. What’s more, it includes understanding real-world limits when developing new ideas and then elaborating on those ideas and outlining the smaller steps which will make them possible.
Traditionally, academic success was measured on the ability to recall and repeat information – meaning that creativity was often not given the space it deserved in education. But today, educational systems are changing to meet the future needs of 21st century learners who will need essential skills such as creativity, collaboration and critical thinking to stand out in a competitive and global job market.
Five ways to incorporate CREATIVITY into your classes
1. Art and design
There are lots of ways we can encourage students to use their art and design skills in the classroom. One of the most effective is to use the course materials you are covering to generate ideas for presentations. This will further engage your students and develop digital literacy, as they will need to identify facts and form opinions about what they are reading. Older or more advanced students will also be able to read around the topics presented and further develop their knowledge, vocabulary and ideas.
Another quick but fun idea is to create themed posters. They allow students to show off their creative side and can cover any topic; whether it be a content-based project, a grammar explanation of how and when to use the present perfect, or even a picture dictionary with vocabulary of the town.
And why not make a ‘graffiti wall’ in your classroom? Cover a corkboard with poster paper, shaded to look like a brick wall. Encourage students to graffiti the wall with jokes, phrases or images of things they like in English. Better still, this graffiti wall can develop throughout the year, giving your students a constant reminder of the things they have learned and how they are progressing.
In your day-to-day classes, you should look for opportunities that go beyond simply learning English. Many younger learner courses incorporate CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) into their syllabus – and we can do the same for our teenagers too. For example, in a unit on the environment, have your students make models of different landscapes and talk about the geographical features or wildlife of each one. Or on the topic of hobbies, they can do mini video tutorials about their hobbies, such as How to train for a football match or How to make cupcakes.
2. Predicting what’s to come
It may sound obvious but when we give students the opportunity to predict content we are tapping into their creative sides. Here’s how you can do it:
Before doing a reading or listening task, show students an image associated with the topic, or write some of the keywords from the text/transcript on the board. Then have them imagine what the text is going to be about and encourage them to expand on their ideas. This will also motivate them more to engage with the text as they’ll want to see if their predictions were correct.
After the reading or listening task you could then get students to come up with an alternative ending or write a play or comic about the events which followed.
Allowing students the space and opportunity to respond to a topic in a personal way encourages them to form a deeper connection to the language.
Take a linguistic point such as the past simple, for example. You can have students imagine the past week of their favorite movie star or athlete and ask them to write a text about what that person did.
Or, working with a language function (such as giving personal information), you can have them invent a dialogue between their favorite celebrity and a classmate’s when the two meet at the gym or a red-carpet event.
4. Using grammar to your advantage
Grammar doesn’t have to be boring! We can also use any grammar point to get creative. The second conditional is particularly good for students to demonstrate their imaginations.
One way to do this is to give students a series of sentence stems and a dice. Have them roll the dice and take a sentence stem and imagine as many possible endings for the sentence as the number on the dice. For example,
If I saw a ghost, …
…I’d run away.
…I’d find out his name.
…I’d probably hide.
…I’d invite him to come home with me.
…I’d find out if he was friendly.
…I’d call the Ghostbusters.
Or to practice comparatives, have students invent something for the house, like a self-cleaning frying pan or a color-changing light bulb which reflects your mood.
After students have imagined and presented their inventions, have them compare their design with others. For example, a self-cleaning frying pan is much more useful than a color-changing light bulb. But the light bulb is more exciting and probably less expensive.
5. Encourage self-expression
Language doesn’t always have to be presented and practiced in the same way and vocabulary doesn’t always have to be written in a list.
With this in mind, you can get students to show their artistic nature by allowing them to create picture dictionaries or by using color to categorize the language. For example, purple could be for high frequency words or words which are below the level or those which have a negative connotation.
Allowing students to develop their own systems and categories for recording language is another positive step towards both creativity and critical thinking – another key 21st century skill.
Read more about the six other essential 21st century skills for secondary learners on our blog.
Materials with creativity in mind
We offer a number of courses with a focus on 21st Century Skills to best prepare your teenage students for their futures.
GoGetter, our secondary series aimed at younger teens, provides students with opportunities to personalize the language and be creative. From imagining crazy houses where the bed is in the bathroom to dreaming up their ideal home, creativity is evident throughout this four-level course.
In addition, the cliffhanger endings of the Grammar and Communication videos will get students using their critical thinking skills and creativity as they imagine what will happen next.
With Drama, BBC Vox Pop and BBC Culture clips in every unit, Wider World provides lots of audiovisual input which students can imitate and recreate, making their own videos to cover the grammar and vocabulary of each unit.
Wider World asks students to think about the world around them and imagine the possibilities for the future.
How are your students demonstrating creativity in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below.