The Art of Being Creative

What is involved in the creative process?

It has been suggested that creativity (or, as it is also termed, divergent production) is not a single unifying ability but it is viewed as a composite of intellectual abilities (J.P.Guilford, 1959, 1968). Some of these are outlined below:

a. Producing lots of ideas (fluency)
b. Producing ideas of various types (flexibility)
c. Building on and embellishing existing ideas (elaboration)
d. Producing clever and original ideas (originality) kapitzvirt

These abilities enable the individual to produce not only a multiplicity of answers as solutions to the same problem or tasks but answers which are also varied; some may at the same time be original. Creative thinking, or divergent production, clearly facilitates problem solving, which is what language teachers are faced with on a daily basis in their classes. In the absence of creative thinking,

  • individuals may become more and more dependent on the input and ideas of others – proponents of different theories and beliefs
  • they may become “followers” who cannot criticise and be eclectic;
  • they may become unable to develop their own independent thinking
  • creative thinking supports critical thinking; individuals many become unable to make their own decisions and solve problems in their own way.

Why are we unable to think creatively?

Psychologists and educators both believe that some creative potential exists in all human beings, although it may be dormant or “blocked”. These blocks are of various kinds:

A. Blocks created by the social environment

Being the “product of a strict & traditional educational system myself, I am not surprised when colleagues tell me they feel uncreative.An educational system based on memorization and rote learning does little to enhance one’s creative potential. Parents who frown upon any creative tendencies may be another cause for blocks to the creative thinking process. The same is true about the attitudes existing in our environment, indeed the whole society in which we live, which may stifle creativity and be very much oriented and appreciative only of logical, analytical thinking.

B. Blocks created by the individual

On the other hand, we ourselves may be creating our own blocks, which may be one or more of the following identified below (T Richards, 1993):

  1. Strategy Blocks. The individual uses the wrong strategy in order to approach the task in hand, or no strategy at all may be available.
    For example, asked to read for gist, the learner translates the text.
  2. Values BlocksThe individual has certain beliefs and holds on tightly to them to the point of rigidity. This creates a negative mindset which makes the individual unable to accept a new set of values even if there is a valid reason to do so.
    For example, 
    pair work is seen unfavorably because in a learner’s values system, they pay for their classes in order to talk to the teacher and no one else.
  3. Perception BlocksThe individual is unable to perceive ways of solving a problem in ways other than those relating to his/her immediate reality or those affecting him/herself. In other words, solutions involving other viewpoints are blocked out as having no relevance to the individual.For example, asked to collaborate on a project, a student with this mindset will only insist on their own ideas creating blocks for other students and undermining the group effort. 
  4. Self-image BlocksThe individual is convinced s/he is too old or not clever enough to do certain things, therefore no attempt is made to find other creative or innovative solutions to existing problems.For example, a student with poor self image will refuse to communicate orally as they are convinced they will fail to convey the message properly. S/he will not attempt to compensate by using any other language at their disposal and will remain silent. 

How can we remove the blocks?

Usually, we know we have reached a block when there is plenty of action but no sense of progress or development. We may actually end up working harder and harder but, at the same time, we may have a feeling of getting stuck.

The inspiration for the activities has come from a variety of sources, from ideas suggested by Edward de Bono in his famous book on lateral thinking and some of his later publications, from the work of teachers in primary classrooms, from the work of colleagues in creative writing workshops as well as from the business world, especially from the work on creativity and innovation at the Manchester Business School.

All those publications, as well as educational research, suggest that we know enough about the creative process in order to be able to train individuals. After all, as educators ourselves, we should have faith in the view that the best position to take is that some improvement is possible for all individuals (J.P.Guilford, 1968).

There are many benefits to helping learner develop creativity and most importantly, …
…ideas generation can promote better collaboration amongst students (thus a better working atmosphere)
…sharing out ideas can provide the basis for ongoing informal opportunities for language acquisition
…collaboration & exchange can ensure a more cohesive group of learners; groups learn better together but they need to work well for that to happen

Here are some suggestions useful for teachers. The activities are listed under the headings suggested by J.P.Guilford (1968) for convenience but, as readers may realize soon, many of them may develop more than one facet of the creative process.

A. Activities promoting fluency (producing lots of ideas)

  • Brainstorming: e.g. List as many ways as you can of cooking potatoes
  • Unusual uses: Find an object and, in teams, think of as many unusual use for that object – apart from the one it was designed for!!!
  • Creating contradictions: Take opposing sides to a teaching problem, e.g. for & against role play/dictation/translation, etc. Hold an argument contradicting each other for as long as you possibly can.

A teacher in Iran, Amir Rastgoo, didn’t wait long before he got his students to try my “Yes, but…” and “Yes, and….” activities!! Brilliant and many thanks to the learners for agreeing to allow us to show this short clip!!!!

B. Activities promoting flexibility

  • Roleplays: With a group of colleagues state a problem (e.g. My students don’t do their homework) and take on different roles to CTEFLwk2005bdiscuss the situation – parents, director of studies, students, minister of education!!!
  • Predicaments or getting yourself out of troublesome situations: A number of strange situations related to teaching can be created and teachers must defend themselves against specific accusations, e.g. “You were seen leading a group of blindfolded students through a busy department store”, or “A colleague overheard you telling your class to light the candles and switch off the lights.”
  • Preoccupations: An activity in which each “player” is assigned a preoccupation, such as role play, drilling, communicative language teaching, etc. and in a pair or group they must attempt to steer the conversation back to their own preoccupation, no matter what other members of the group have to say about their own!

C. Activities promoting elaboration/embellishing

  • Asking related questions: A statement is picked to start the game off, e.g. I never assign more than two exercises for homework. Each player in turn must ask a related question; no questions should be answered by statements of any kind but only by further questions.
  • “Yes, and” or expanding statements: Start with a suggestion, e.g.I think we should invent a new filing system for activities in our school. Each subsequent player must begin their turn by saying “Yes, and …”, thus being forced to elaborate and expand the previous person’s ideas in a positive rather than negative way.
  • Inserting activities: Take a coursebook unit and start brainstorming as many activities as you can which can be added between activities in the unit.

D. Activities promoting originality

Design activities are generally excellent as ways of helping develop original and clever ideas. One that is always fun to do is to take an old boring exercise from your coursebook and try to turn it into a game. Creating new games for your school can also be started by taking a commercially produced game, such as Pictionary or Taboo, and thinking of ways of adapting it for use with your class.

  • Introducing an innovation into your teaching programme, e.g. What steps and procedures would you follow in order to organise a series of literary evenings for your advanced classes?
  • Problem solving activities which again may focus on your teaching situation, e.g. Your beginning students are very reluctant to use English in class. Suggest a number of different solutions to the problem of persuading them to use English in class.

Final words

This article is based on the firm belief that by undergoing training in developing our own creative thinking skills, those of us involved in the teaching profession will enhance our potential for dealing with the problems of daily teaching and find new ways of making our approach to teaching more exciting and stimulating.

As a teacher educator, I make a point of including such activities in my programmes to equip teachers not only with the techniques and knowledge needed for the classroom but with a set of skills which will sustain them in their own development long after a course has finished.


  • De Bono, E., 1977, Lateral Thinking- A Textbook of Creativity. Penguin Books
  • – Guilford, J.P., 1959, Three Facets of Intellect. American Psychologist No 14
  • Guilford, J.P., 1968, Intelligence. Creativity and their Educational Implications. San Diego, Robert R. Knapp Publications
  • – Richards, T., 1993, Ideas into Action: How Creativity & Innovation are Driving Modern Business Life. Public Lecture for the Athens L.B.A.
  • Reprinted from CELT Athens Newsletter, Issue 6, Summer 1996

Related Readings

  1. Creativity in the English language classroom  

  2. Eight steps to becoming a more creative teacher


6 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your ideas. I’ll bookmark it. Your posts are the reason an EFL teacher in Brazil started to read A Framework for Task-Bases Learning again.

  2. Actually, we ought to keep up to date to the latest , current advancements in methodology and never to rest on our laurels in order to develop as teachers and humans for the sake of educating our learners to their fullest potential…

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