By Shana Bestock
Bringing creativity into the classroom isn’t only for art teachers! Creativity hinges on discovery, and as educators we can intentionally set the stage for those moments of discovery to happen. Creativity is also intrinsically tied to collaboration–whether individually, by engaging different aspects of the self in conversation, or collectively, by communicating with others to build something together. Creativity is about being ingenious, resourceful, and taking risks. Whether your focus is math or reading, science or history, coding or painting, creativity is an essential ingredient to learning, engagement, and sparking curiosity and joy. Every teacher, no matter their subject area, can borrow from the Zoom-friendly exercises below to jumpstart their students’ creativity and prepare them for the lesson ahead.
1. Tell a Story in 7 Sentences
The story structure below has unlimited uses!
7-Sentence Story Structure
Once upon a time___
And every day___
Until one day____
And because of this____
And because of this____
And ever since that day____
Just a few ideas for implementation:
- As a “wake up” exercise at the start of class, you might have each student take a line and co-create a class story aloud, or ask students to write an opening line and then exchange it with someone else to complete the story.
- Brainstorm some morals to use as the final line “and ever since that day.” (Think of Aesop, only these morals can be silly, like “you should never burn marshmallows” or “always ask your parents before adopting a turtle”). Then work backwards, creating stories that justify the moral.
- Ask students to use this structure to write their life story as a get-to-know-you exercise.
- Ask students to summarize a novel or historical figure or event using this seven-sentence structure.
2. Make it Move
For a fun writing lesson, get grounded in the body by planting feet on the floor, taking some deep, intentional breaths, and stretching some underused muscles. Then put on some music and move! You can call out dance moves, play follow the leader, or just model willingness to look silly and have fun. I highly recommend digging out a song from a past era that the kids might not have heard, so they are really listening and discovering. After a few minutes, keep the music playing and ask students to start writing in response to how the music makes them feel. Even better, prompt them to write their experience in similes or metaphors, such as “this music makes me feel like I’m eating ________.”
3. Act it Out
You don’t have to be an acting teacher or put on a full production to get a creative boost from theatrical exploration. Pull a scene from literature, an historical event, or even the moment a crucial scientific discovery was made. Just keep asking questions: Why does your character say that? What do they want? What do you think they are feeling when they say that? Give students a chance to discover themselves within the role.
4. Design the Costume
This is an obvious exercise for literature, or historical figures—but what about math concepts? What does a fraction wear? Or science: if Mars went to a fashion show, what would its runway look be? This allows kids who think math or science “isn’t my thing” to make it their thing, and also asks students to think critically and imaginatively about the essence of a concept and how to communicate it in another “language.”
5. Lie to Me
As an alternative to a “how are you feeling today” check-in, why not get at the truth through a lie? Popcorn around the Zoom room asking each student to introduce themselves with a lie, making it as realistic or absurd as they want. (Teenagers often use this exercise as an excuse to tell a truth ironically, while middle schoolers often use it to give themselves magical powers or re-create the world as they imagine or wish it to be.)
6. Opening Scenes
Have fun with how you show up in the Zoom room! Start by writing a short dialogue with your students that’s “boring” and has no indications of character or action. For example:
A: This is the worst
B: Mmm I know
A: I am now yes
B: Good are you done
A: OK now your turn
Now have students take turns acting out the scene, creating the characters and context as they go! This can be a silly exercise to create community and connection in the virtual classroom, or you can align the activity with your curriculum by asking students to act out the scene as a character from a novel or as an historical figure.
7. Yes, and What If?
This round-robin storytelling exercise using the phrases “Yes, and What If” is another fun way to start off a Zoom session. One student starts a story by asking, “what if;” the next person builds on it with, “yes, and what if,” and off you go! Often stories will spiral into the absurd or incoherent; practice building stories that have some kind of coherent arc, or challenge students that the story must reach a specific outcome with the last person in the group (“what if they lived happily ever after?!”).
8. Define a Term
Pick a topical word: “democracy”, say, or “compassion.” Set a timer and ask students to collage as many “definitions” as possible beyond the dictionary definition. For example, they could write a short poem, find an image, draw a picture, take a photo, compose a song, mold something out of clay, choreograph a dance, etc. Be prepared to be surprised by their discoveries!
Creativity promotes critical thinking and problem-solving, calms stress and anxiety, strengthens empathy and connection, and fuels a sense of purpose and confidence. Bringing creativity to your students is a huge gift to both yourself and your classroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time to spark something exciting, and nurturing those sparks to light a fire is one of the central joys of being an educator. Virtual instruction can feel draining; use and adapt these exercises to re-empower your classrooms – and yourself – with creative energy!
Shana Bestock is a writer, educator, theater artist, and non-profit leader based in Seattle, WA. She currently serves as the Producing Artistic Director of Penguin Productions, facilitating creative adventures in community arts to fuel the future with a focus on youth development and leadership, gender equity, and environmental justice. She is also a Fulbright Specialist, working internationally at the intersections of theater, social justice, and community building. www.penguinproductionsseattle.org & www.shanabestock.com