The word “creative” conjures up mixed feelings among teachers. Often, we fall into the trap of thinking that creativity is someone else’s business. I would like to think that creativity is, and must be, everybody’s business. It is not something that should only be found in the colourful classrooms of the art department, or sounding forth from the music block.
I am fortunate to work in a school where creativity is it the heart of practice. No one thinks it is weird that I ask my year 11s to sculpt the concept of the sanctity of life out of modelling clay. My year 8 class didn’t bat an eyelid when I explained that the lesson outcome was to produce a giant tapestry to be displayed at a cathedral.
When my mother-in-law got excited in the supermarket and bought me a plastic bow and arrow set to “use somehow in your lessons” my usually grumpy year 10 was suddenly enamoured by the topic of Apostolic Succession.
Indeed, most of these ideas come from episodes of my own childishness. The toy aisle is a great place to find inspiration for creative teaching.
To be engaging, lessons do not need to take hours of preparation. Having a bank of resources that can be adapted for any topic immediately means that lessons will always have an element of fun. However, I am always cautious of “fun for fun’s sake”. I think this may be the reason why so many of us are wary of unleashing a bit of creativity in our classrooms.
Ultimately, our aim is to educate the whole child and to me this means not only equipping them with the subject knowledge that is accurate and useful, but also providing them with a love of learning.
I know that I learn best when I am engrossed in what I’m doing. I’d like to think that I would be happy to listen to a teacher simply talk about their subject – however, I am under no illusions that I too switch off once the subject stops capturing my imagination. Give me a bottle filled with dried rice and hidden objects and words however, and the challenge will keep me occupied for as long as you like.
So, how can we encourage the use of creativity in all classrooms? Here are some practical ideas:
Take a bunch of old plastic containers or carrier bags and fill them with shredded paper. In groups of four, have your students take six pieces of scrap paper and write three questions and the three answers on them. Hide them among the shredded papers and swap the boxes between the groups. One person at a time must use only one hand to find a question or answer, read it aloud to their group and then allow the next person to find one. Once they are found, match the pairs. The first group to do so is the winner. This one is great as there is only one-off prep and I’ve never had a student not say they love it!
Clearly, all homework should be useful. This one is particularly so. I asked my students to produce a children’s book explaining Catholic teachings on the Trinity. This is a complicated concept and it really tested their understanding to be able to write about it in simple form. What my year 10s produced was amazing. The quality of written work was admirable but the presentation of the material was bordering on professional. They included activities, diagrams, games and even resources. Not only did this allow me to assess their understanding and ingenuity, but it provided me with resources to use with my year 7 class, who could then provide detailed feedback from a user’s perspective for my older students. Fantastic!
Young people have an uncanny ability to read meaning into music. Knowing very little about “modern” music (despite being 26) leaves me slightly open to embarrassment with this one. I use pieces of music with lyrics as pre-starter tasks in my lessons. I play the music in the background as students enter and pose a simple question on the board: “Explain the connection between this music and last lesson”, “What would Christians say about the message of the song?”, “Do the lyrics remind you of any Parables?”.
I am always pleasantly surprised by their eloquent responses to these types of questions. This is a great activity, again with minimal preparation, that always has an immediate impact on your students.
This activity is simple and effective for engaging students and exploring complicated issues. Select a student and secretly provide them with a concept or word to depict in images on the board. You can set the rules to be as easy or challenging as you like.
For example, I do not allow my more able students to use any letters in their drawings. The class can either shout out the concept that they think is being depicted or you can have them write down their guesses.
If you have small student whiteboards this is a great time to use them. On one side students could write down what they think is being drawn, on the other they explain the concept in their own words or by another drawing which they will be able to outline verbally.
This one is a firm favourite of mine. It is always a dangerous thing to teach only from the bubble that is your own head. As teachers we are very good at seeking advice and inspiration from our colleagues. But how often can we say that our ideas for teaching come directly from our students?
When teaching a topic I ask students how they would teach it. An excellent starter is to ask students how they would teach a concept to students younger than themselves.
Ask them what specific words they would use and have them write it almost as a script. This will give you an immediate knowledge of who understands the work, and also a bank of truly student-centred ideas for teaching.
Better yet, let them loose in your craft box (old wrapping paper, tissue, scraps of fabric, foil and small boxes etc) and get them to create the resources you will use. Divide up future teaching topics and allocate them to students who will become experts in their area.
As with everything in teaching, some of these ideas will work for some people and others will hate them. Start with what you know works for you and adapt and change as necessary. Try things that take you outside of your comfort zone, reflect on what you have done and go back to the drawing board when needed. Enjoy!
Lauren Nicholson-Ward is a teacher of religious education at Painsley Catholic College in Staffordshire.