In this extract Marisa Constantinides presents activities to develop teachers' creative thinking skills.

This extract is from the British Council publication 'Creativity in the English Language classroom' edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey. In this chapter, Marisa Constantinides presents activities to develop teachers' creative thinking skills.

'Creative thinking skills training: The basis of the practical ideas in this article

It has been suggested that creativity or, as it is also termed, divergent production (Guilford,1967), is not a single unifying ability; it is viewed as a composite of intellectual abilities. Guilford further suggests that divergent production facilitates problem-solving, something which language teachers are faced with on a daily basis in their classes - and that we know enough about the creative process to be able to train individuals. Here are the four main characteristics of the creative process that he describes (op. cit.):

  • Producing lots of ideas (fluency)
  • Producing ideas of various types (flexibility)
  • Building on and embellishing existing ideas (elaboration)
  • Producing clever and original ideas (originality).

These abilities enable the individual to produce not only a multiplicity of answers as solutions to the same problem or tasks, but answers that are also varied; some may even be original.

Benefits to the teacher

Divergent production, then, seems to respond positively to some of the issues mentioned earlier:

  • Materials can be put to new use in more effective and stimulating ways.
  • Materials and lesson design becomes easier and more varied as the teachers can come up with more than one solution to the problem of what to include at each stage.
  • It is easier for teachers to see new ways of changing existing material, to fit in with their aims, learners and teaching context.
  • Teachers produce more ideas, and some of them can also be quite original ones. 
  • Teachers are no longer ‘slaves’ to one or another method but may be better able to evaluate, select and be eclectic in a principled way.

The role of the trainer and/or the institution

Helping teachers to develop their ability to think creatively, including creative thinking skills training, is not going to be enough, and the effects of this training may not be sustainable unless there is a positive culture encouraging and facilitating as well as demonstrating creativity.

Trainers need to model creative behaviours themselves by using a variety of ways of handling course input, from training games to loop input – an idea suggested by Woodward (1991) – not in a relentless pursuit of fun and games but in accordance with the topic and focus of each session.

In addition, work on team-building, generating trust amongst trainees, is essential from day one and needs to be followed through systematically, either through activities such as those suggested by Hadfield (1992), or through social activities in a school setting or a self-help group.

Creativity needs to be inspired by inspired leadership that nurtures and appreciates teachers who make the effort to be creative.

Practical suggestions and activities

Problem solving activities

These are activities that 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.

  • Desert island

Trainees are given a list of teaching supplies and a desert island brief and are asked to decide which 8 (or other suitable number) essentials they would take with them if they had to teach a class at a specified level of instruction with no other supplies or facilities.

  • Putting creativity to work

As previously suggested, the activities are listed under one heading but some do more than just one thing. Overall, I consider these activities as practice opportunities focusing both on the content and on the cognitive mind-set. However, trainees need to apply the skill to their designated planning, design and teaching tasks, and this is where, ultimately, these practice opportunities are leading: to enable teachers in training (and at work) to create more, better and with more ease.

Ideas suggested by colleagues

In my survey, I asked colleagues to describe some activities which they include in their sessions and which they believe develop creativity in their trainee teachers. Their suggestions, which follow, fall mostly under the umbrella of holistic practice that must also be included in any attempts to work with thinking skills development.

Here are some of their ideas:

  • Visualisations and metaphors

Many trainers like to use this technique, e.g. draw an image representing your course-book; choose a metaphor for a lesson (e.g. a play, a concert, etc.); draw an image to show how you visualise teaching.

  • Imagine you have no course-book for your next lesson

Some colleagues have also reported abandoning course-books altogether for the duration of their training programmes and report positively on the benefits to their trainees (See also Tomlinson, in this volume).

  • Materials treasure hunts via Google

This idea may not in itself be creative, but it chimes with the concept of curating content before producing one’s own.

  • Group projects

These may involve planning a series of lessons or a set of materials.

Sessions in which these ideas are typically used are assisted lesson preparation, materials evaluation and adaptation, materials design based on authentic documents and introducing educational technology into the curriculum.'

Extract from chapter 12, 'Creating creative teachers' by Marisa Constantinides in 'Creativity in the English language classroom'.

Watch a webinar recording of a presentation by Marisa Constantinides on 'Creating creative teachers'.

Read more extracts:

Download the complete book: 'Creativity in the English language classroom'.

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight