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22 Simple Ideas for Harnessing Creativity in the Elementary Classroom

Trisha Riche

Kindergarten inclusion teacher at R.L.Brown elementary in Jacksonville,Fl
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Here's an experiment you can conduct in many schools, maybe even the school where you teach. Look through the door of one classroom and you might see the students hunched over, not engaged, even frowning. The teacher looks frazzled, tired and wishing he or she were somewhere else. You might think, "Well, everyone has a bad day." But you might witness this scenario in this teacher's classroom no matter what day you look through the door. For the second part of the experiment, look through the door of another classroom, and you might see a room full of lively students, eager, engaged and participating. The teacher is full of energy and smiling. This happens no matter what day you look through that door.

What is the second teacher doing that the first one isn't? He or she is using creativity in that classroom. Creativity makes a huge difference. Creativity is vital for a classroom to be successful. There is a common misconception that the word "creative" has to do mostly with the arts. But being artistic is only a small part of creativity. While any classroom environment would benefit from a teacher blessed with the gift of artistic talent, creativity is many other things.

Creativity is innovation.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If something isn't working, then it's broken and needs to be fixed. Come up with something else that will work for your students.

Creativity is thinking outside the box.
Everything doesn't always have to be black and white. Sometimes the oddball activities are the ones that work.

Creativity is improvisation.
Things don't always turn out the way you planned. When I've realized that a lesson wasn't working midway through, I literally tossed it out and started over. I tried a different angle (in this case, incorporating a movie that my students liked), and it worked.

Creativity is professional growth.
We don't always have all of the answers. If you can't figure out what to do, use your coworkers as resources. You might find some really great ideas that make sense for your students. Also, look at research and see what has worked for other teachers around the world. Use resources like KS2, hubbardscupboard.org, and starfall.com for some fun engaging activities.

Creativity is being a risk taker or mold breaker.
I have had many crazy ideas for things to try in the classroom. Some have worked and some haven't, but I found that trying was better than being stuck in the same pattern that isn't working.

Creativity is passion.
Be passionate about what you are doing. You are there to inspire students to become lifelong learners. If you want them to love learning, you have to love what you are teaching.

Suggested Activities: The Game of Learning

For the first six activities, seat your students in a circle and introduce a ball or something else they can pass easily between them.

1. "I know a word"
You can begin this skills game by saying, "I know a word that starts with the same sound you hear at the beginning of butterfly." Students will raise their hands, and you choose one to tell you a word the starts with "B." Once they tell you the word, toss them the ball. They choose someone else to tell them another word that begins with that letter, passing the ball to the student who gets it right. As the game continues, change the letter every so often. Play until everyone has had a turn. You can use this game for beginning sounds, ending sounds, middle sounds etc.

2. Rhyme time
Say, "I need a word that rhymes with cat." Pass the ball to someone once they give you a correct rhyming word. Keep changing the starting word and continue the game until all kids have gone.

3. Practice counting
You can have your class practice counting by twos, fives and tens. Pass the ball clockwise or counterclockwise, with the student who receives it saying the number that comes next. For example, you say, "We are going to count by fives. Five!" The person next to you says "ten," the next one says "fifteen," and so on.

4. Spelling review
For older kids, you can pass the ball and go through your spelling words one letter at a time. For example, you say, "We're going to spell the word their, as in 'This is their ball.'" The first person says "T," the second person says "H," the third person says "E," and so on. If one says the wrong letter, the next person says correct letter and fixes the mistake.

5. "I need a synonym"
This is a great vocabulary building exercise. You can use the ball or a pair of flyswatters, depending on the age of your students. You say, "I need a synonym for mad." Choose someone to give you another word that means the same thing, such as angry, furious and enraged. For older kids, you can put a list of synonyms on the board and divide the class into two teams. Have one person from each team come up and compete. Whoever slaps the board with the flyswatter and says the correct synonym wins a point for their team. In the end all of your students win a better vocabulary.

6. Reinforce other skills
What other subjects are you teaching? You could adapt these games to fit pretty much anything. "I need a name of an explorer." "I need you to name one of the phases of matter." "I need to know one of the reasons for the Civil War." Be creative!

7. Roll dice to have your students answer story questions.
"What is the plot of the story?" you might ask them. "What is the setting?" You can introduce more reflective questions such as, "Why did this character do what he or she did?" and "What was the author's purpose?" You can write these questions on cards or purchase them from reallygoodstuff.com.

8. Sight Word Slap Game
Write your sight words on the board. Separate your class into two random teams. Let one person from each team step forward and hold a fly swatter. Call out one of the sight words. The first one to slap the correct sight word gets a point for their team. Continue until everyone has gone. This is great for helping sight word recognition.

Suggested Activities: The Artsy Side of Creative

9. Use different voices or accents when reading stories to the class.

10. Dress in costumes of storybook characters to leave a lasting impression, or let students dress up as characters to retell stories.

11. Turn your room into the environment of what you are learning about. When the class is learning about fairy tales, turn your classroom into a castle. When you're learning about animals, turn your classroom into a jungle.

12. Create class songs about topics they need to know, or use the music of singers like Hap Palmer and Jack Hartman. You might also borrow songs and games from coworkers. Songs are catchy, and children learn quickly from them.

Creative Science

13. When teaching about the properties of friction, use KS2 for interactive projects you can do in small groups or as a class using a smart board. You might ask your students slide down the hallway first in their socks, then barefoot, and have them journal about the different amounts of friction.

14. When teaching phases of matter, drop some food coloring into beakers of cold and warm water and note the difference. Then pour the contents of one beaker in a bag and put it in the freezer. The next day, compare the liquid bag with the solid chunk of ice and note differences.

15. Use the ice from the above activity and talk about gravity. Stand on a chair and discuss what will happen if you drop the ice, and if it matters which way you drop it. Let your students predict the possible outcomes.

Incorporate Your Students' Favorite Things

16. Survey your students at the beginning of the year. Get to know them and what they like. Then make a point of using their names, favorite foods, games, books, etc. in word problems, writing exercises, shared reading and many other activities. People do better and learn more when working with things they like. As adults we know that we don't want to do something if it's not fun. The same goes for kids.

Creative time savers

17. Have your students rely on each other as resources. For each table, pick a team leader to try answering his or her classmates' questions before they come to you for help.

18. Pair your higher achievers with lower achievers to study sight words, letters or other skills.

19. Put them into literature circles to discuss books.

20. Have them read one another's writing to check for completion or suggest ideas before they come see you.

21. Use the Leap Frog Tag reading system. You can plug it into the computer to get student scores on activities, which will provide guidelines for what you need to work on. This is a great way to collect data!

22. Have a "math problem of the day" journal to review skills in which your students scored low on assessments. Put the problem on the board and have them copy it into their journals at the beginning of the day. You can take a minute or two after they have completed it to review the problem with the class. Check notebooks later for understanding.

    Live Like a Turtle

    For those of you trying to figure out how you'll find the time to integrate all this into an already busy teaching day, here's some food for thought. It will take longer to teach a lesson three times than it will to teach it once using a little creativity. Make time for creativity. Most of the above creative activities take only a few minutes to do. They also require very little prep time and cost very little money, if any. So go ahead -- be a risk taker and try at least one of these ideas this week. I'm sure you won't regret it.

    As I said above, everyone has bad days, but overall my classroom is a happy place to be. It's like this because I use creativity to make learning fun. I live by these words that Dr. Ruth once said: "Live life every day like a turtle." To get anywhere, a turtle has to stick its neck out and take a risk. So take risks every day. It's the only way to truly live and make a difference in the world.

    What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for bringing creativity into your elementary students?


    Trisha Riche

    Kindergarten inclusion teacher at R.L.Brown elementary in Jacksonville,Fl

    Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

    Grant Lichtman's picture
    Grant Lichtman
    Chief Operating Officer, Francis Parker School, San Diego


    Thanks for this great list and articulation. I am going to forward it to my Lower School faculty, and keep a copy to ponder and use in the future!

    I am not a self-promoter at all, but I thought in reading your list that you might enjoy reading a book I wrote a few years ago. I have thought, taught, and wrote about creational thinking and how we can teach it to young people for longer than I care to admit. In my book I tried to show that even young students can learn these lessons, and we have used it down to 4th grade. I would LOVE to have someone try to translate the lessons and prove it up at kindergarten! It is titled "The Falconer"; you can get it or download it on Amazon; it is combination non-fiction and children's stories so hopefully not a tough read. Would love to hear feedback from you, and thanks again for sharing your post.

    Barrie W. Mizerski's picture

    AND THEN TAPE IT, audio with just a $20 tape recorder and add movie music. Whatever story, song or creative art your students have made, play an appropriate instrumental (no words) movie sound track while they say their story. Or if you've taken a popular song, play the CD instrumental version (karaoke). On playback, when they listen you'll be booting up mirror neurons and the myelin sheath. Videotaping (with permission slips) uses all of the senses (synesthesia) to creatively and emotionally learn and enjoy the curriculum.

    I had a first grader write a three page story on her trip to the store with mommy and how she flew around, backed by the movie soundtrack of Harry Potter. Yes!

    MnM's mom's picture
    MnM's mom
    Parent of high school and elementary girls

    There is no better use for a fly swatter than the sight word game! My daughter has such fond memories of kindergarden - quiet music during writing time, word games, songs, dancing to learn to count, dancing regularly to a popular workout video because dancing is fun (ie: good for body and soul.) Trisha's classroom is full of life and love. Year after year I have seen children get totally psyched about learning and showing off their new knowledge and understanding. I have never been in another classroom where children were really having so much fun learning. Florida uses standards based curriculum and testing, which in my unprofessional opinion is contrary to real learning, yet Trisha finds ways to make it resonate for her students. Tallahassee should hire her as a consultant and Bravo should make a reality show in which Trisha gets to go into classrooms of struggling teachers and help them find their way. Thanks, Trisha, for all you do for your students and ultimately our world!

    Trisha Riche's picture
    Trisha Riche
    Kindergarten inclusion teacher at R.L.Brown elementary in Jacksonville,Fl

    Thank you for this wonderful compliment! I'm just doing what I know is right for my students and I always will. Creativity rocks! :)

    Trisha Riche's picture
    Trisha Riche
    Kindergarten inclusion teacher at R.L.Brown elementary in Jacksonville,Fl

    This sounds like a great activity! I have made one school video. We interviewed everyone in the school about what their job was and we even interviewed some students. Students and myself were the reporters that asked everyone "What is your job?" It is really cute and the kids love seeing themselves on film. I think I will try something like you suggested and put their fairytale stories on film. They would love it!

    Trisha Riche's picture
    Trisha Riche
    Kindergarten inclusion teacher at R.L.Brown elementary in Jacksonville,Fl

    Thank you for the compliment! I've always had a lot of creativity in me and I was so happy that I could share it with others. I would love to read the book. I will look for it this weekend and give it a go with my students when I get back in January! I am a fan of reading higher literature for vocabulary development. I've read Tale of Despereaux,The Miraculous journey of Edward Tulane and many others. We read them a couple of chapters at a time. I use them for rich vocabulary building, imagery and much more. My students use some large words they have learned in their own writing. You don't know how happy it makes me to see words like quest, journey, scrumptious and delicious in Kindergarten writing! They can achieve anything with high expectations and nurturing. :)

    Trisha Riche's picture
    Trisha Riche
    Kindergarten inclusion teacher at R.L.Brown elementary in Jacksonville,Fl

    "Bravo should make a reality show in which Trisha gets to go into classrooms of struggling teachers and help them find their way." I love this idea MnMS Mom. I would love to do this show! Anyone interested in filming this show, call me :)

    Patti Shade's picture

    Two new books just published by Pieces of Learning integrate creativity (creative thinking) into all teaching and learning. The first book shows teachers how to use creativity as the organizational framework for instruction. Chapters included address curriculum design, assessment, climate, etc. - there are also chapters with supporting research and rationale and data addressing diverse populations. The second book has 150+ activities and extensions with ready to use classroom templates for integrating creativity using lessons like the ones described in this blog!
    Curiosita Teaching - Integrating Creativity Into Your 21st Century Classroom
    Curiosita Teaching - Handbook of Instructional Strategies

    mbmbridges's picture

    Trisha, Thank you for sharing some wonderful ideas that can be easily implemented in the classroom; and for being a voice for our efficacy, i.e., that what we can make learning more successful for students. Mary

    Cathy Murphree's picture
    Cathy Murphree
    Asst. Head of School for Academic Affairs

    Thank you, Trisha. This is super. As an extension to number three, I observed a 1st grade teacher who conducted such a counting game, letting the students choose what they would be counting by, THEN letting them pick the starting number and going with that! So...counting by 5's, starting with 29! She let the kids tell her how they would go about this...let to some great (and multiple) strategies. So cool!

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