What comes to mind when you think of creativity? People being imaginative, inventive, taking risks and challenging convention? Do you think about originality and the value of what people produce? Perhaps you think you can only be creative if you are artistic. What if that's not the case? What if we can develop children's creative thinking by promoting creativity in the classroom? How do we do this?

The definition of creativity

A good starting point for defining creativity is ‘All our futures: Creativity, culture and education’, the National Advisory Committee for Creativity and Culture in Education’s report (DfEE, 1999). This report states that we are all, or can be, creative to a lesser or greater degree if we are given the opportunity. The definition of creativity in the report (page 29) is broken down into four characteristics:

  • First, they [the characteristics of creativity] always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively.
  • Second, overall this imaginative activity is purposeful: that is, it is directed to achieving an objective.
  • Third, these processes must generate something original.
  • Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.

Debating the characteristics highlighted by this definition can be a helpful starting point for agreeing what your school actually means by creativity.

Imagination and Purpose

Imagination is definitely a key part of creativity. But are all imaginative ideas creative? Suppose someone imagined a blue and white striped unicorn. Would this be creative? It may be that no one has conjured up a unicorn like this before. But what is the point of the idea? If someone thinks of an imaginative idea like this and then does not take it any further, are they creative?

Creative people are purposeful as well as imaginative. Their imaginative activity is directed at achieving an objective (although this objective may change over time).


What do we mean by originality? What might we mean by originality when we are talking about pupils’ learning? Original in relation to their previous work? Other pupils’ work? Work that has gained public recognition?

When pupils are writing a poem, choreographing a dance or producing a painting, their work can be unique if it expresses their ideas and feelings. But what about work in subjects like science, history and maths? While it would be wonderful for a pupil to be the first person to discover a new scientific principle, this is highly unlikely. Does this mean that pupils can’t be creative in these subjects?

Not at all. Skilled teachers can help pupils tackle questions, solve problems and have ideas that are new to them. This makes pupils’ ideas original, the result of genuinely creative behaviour.


Imaginative activity can only be creative if it is of value in relation to its purpose: if it satisfies what pupils set out to achieve. They need to ask questions such as, ‘Is it a good…?’, ‘Does it do the job…?’

Pupils will need help to judge the value of what they and others have done: to evaluate critically what they have achieved. Is it, for example, useful? Aesthetically pleasing? A valid solution? Does it work?

Some acts might be highly imaginative and original, but harm someone or destroy something. Are we happy with this kind of creativity? Teachers will have a view about what is worthwhile and valuable; pupils may differ. Sharing judgements together can give the teacher insights into what pupils value.

Why is creativity so important?

Creativity improves pupils' self esteem, motivation and achievement

Pupils who are encouraged to think creatively and independently become:

  • more interested in discovering things for themselves
  • more open to new ideas
  • keen to work with others to explore ideas
  • willing to work beyond lesson time when pursuing an idea or vision.

As a result, their pace of learning, levels of achievement and self-esteem increase.

Creativity prepares pupils for life

By providing rich and varied contexts for pupils to acquire, develop and apply a broad range of knowledge, understanding and skills, the curriculum should enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, enterprising and capable of leadership to equip them for their future lives as workers and citizens. It should enable pupils to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities, to manage risk and to cope with change and adversity.

Pupils who are creative will be prepared for a rapidly changing world, where they may have to adapt to several careers in a lifetime. Many employers want people who see connections, have bright ideas, are innovative, communicate and work well with others and are able to solve problems. In other words, they need creative people.

Creativity enriches pupils' lives

By promoting creativity, teachers can give all pupils the opportunity to discover and pursue their particular interests and talents. We are all, or can be, creative to some degree. Creative pupils lead richer lives and, in the longer term, make a valuable contribution to society.

How can you spot creativity?

When pupils are thinking and behaving creatively in the classroom, you are likely to see them:

  • questioning and challenging
  • making connections and seeing relationships
  • envisaging what might be
  • exploring ideas, keeping options open
  • reflecting critically on ideas, actions and outcomes.

Questioning and challenging

Creative pupils are curious, question and challenge, and don’t always follow rules. They:

  • ask ‘why?’ ‘how?’ ‘what if?’
  • ask unusual questions
  • respond to ideas, questions, tasks or problems in a surprising way
  • challenge conventions and their own and others’ assumptions
  • think independently

Making connections and seeing relationships

Creative pupils think laterally and make associations between things that are not usually connected. They:

  • recognise the significance of their knowledge and previous experience
  • use analogies and metaphors
  • generalise from information and experience, searching for trends and patterns
  • reinterpret and apply their learning in new contexts
  • communicate their ideas in novel or unexpected ways.

Envisaging what might be

Creative pupils speculate about possibilities. They:

  • imagine, seeing things in the mind’s eye
  • see possibilities, problems and challenges
  • ask ‘what if?’
  • visualise alternatives
  • look at and think about things differently and from different points of view.

Exploring ideas, keeping options open

Creative pupils explore possibilities, keep their options open and learn to cope with the uncertainty that this brings. They:

  • play with ideas, experiment, try alternatives and fresh approaches
  • respond intuitively and trust their intuition
  • anticipate and overcome difficulties, following an idea through
  • keep an open mind, adapting and modifying their ideas to achieve creative results.

Reflecting critically on ideas, actions and outcomes

Creative pupils are able to evaluate critically what they do. They:

  • review progress, ask ‘is this a good...?’ ‘is this what is needed?’
  • invite feedback and incorporate this as needed
  • put forward constructive comments, ideas, explanations and ways of doing things
  • make perceptive observations about originality and value.

How can you promote creativity?

How can teachers promote creativity?

Teachers can promote pupils’ creativity by:

  • planning tasks and activities that give pupils opportunities to be creative
  • teaching in a way that makes the most of pupils’ creativity.

It is vital to get the pitch of an activity right from the outset. Unrealistically high expectations cause frustration and anxiety, inhibiting creativity. Unrealistically low expectations induce boredom and cause pupils to switch off. So what should you do to promote creativity when planning?

Set a clear purpose for pupils’ work

  • look for opportunities to promote creative responses in your existing schemes of work and lesson plans
  • set clear learning objectives and build specific creativity objectives into planning; integrate these with subject-specific objectives
  • structure a sequence of lessons, taking pupils through the creative process step by step; don’t be too ambitious about what pupils can achieve in one lesson
  • share objectives with pupils; this will help them to sustain their efforts over long periods
  • plan for pupils to share their work with others; this tends to be very motivating.

Be clear about freedoms and constraints

  • give pupils opportunities to choose ways of working and to shape the process, direction of work or outcome
  • use a range of learning styles, for example practical experimentation and problem solving, role-play and dance, visual materials such as diagrams and cartoons, small group discussion and collaboration
  • give pupils a clear brief
  • limit time, scale or resources; constraints can stimulate new ways of working and improvisation.

Fire pupils’ imagination through other learning and experiences

  • give pupils first-hand experiences through visits and contact with creative people use stimulating starting points such as artefacts, problems, stories with human interest, topical events
  • make activities relevant to pupils’ lives
  • build on what pupils find interesting and have already experienced both in and out of school
  • look for opportunities to encourage pupils to apply their prior learning creatively
  • give pupils opportunities to reflect on and share personal experiences and feelings.

Give pupils opportunities to work together

  • give pupils opportunities to work with others from their class, year group and different age groups
  • structure collaborative activities; if pupils have free choice, they often choose restrictive, gender-based groups
  • monitor and manage the collaborative process carefully
  • address the needs of individuals in each group.

Once an activity is underway, teachers can actively foster pupils’ creativity in a number of ways. You could try some of the approaches below to do this.

So what should you do to promote creativity when teaching?

Establish criteria for success

  • help pupils to develop criteria that they can use to judge their own success, in particular, the originality and value of their work (eg asking, ‘What makes a good...?’)
  • help pupils to appreciate the different qualities in others’ work and to value ways of working that are different from their own.

Capitalise on unexpected learning opportunities

  • actively pursue pupils’ ideas (where these are likely to be productive), without losing sight of your original teaching objective
  • make the most of unexpected events; this can help pupils to overcome their fear of the unknown, develop problem-solving skills and think imaginatively
  • be ready to put aside your lesson plan and ‘go with the moment’ if you judge this would be more effective for pupils’ learning.

Ask open-ended questions and encourage critical reflection

  • ask questions such as ‘What if...?’, ‘Why is...?’ and ‘How might you...?’ to help pupils see things from different perspectives and come up with new ideas
  • encourage openness to ideas
  • be willing to stand back and not give all the answers but provide helpful prompts, if necessary, modelling flexible and independent thinking and behaviour for pupils.

Regularly review work in progress

  • regularly stop to review work in progress, discuss the problems pupils are facing and how they can solve them
  • encourage pupils to share ideas with others and to talk about their progress
  • help pupils to give and receive constructive feedback (confidence and communication skills are vital for this)
  • reassure pupils that they can take forward someone else’s idea if they think it is more successful than their own (while encouraging them to recognise that it is also acceptable to be different).

You might find it helpful to collect evidence of how pupils respond in different lessons. Capture selected pupils’ responses on paper, video or audiotape, or ask a colleague to observe pupils and note what happens during a lesson. What does this tell you about individuals? The class? Your teaching style? The classroom environment? What can you learn from pupils’ responses to help you develop their creativity and your skills as a teacher?

How can teams of teachers promote creativity?

As a team, department, faculty or school, it is important that you share a common understanding of and expectations about creativity. You could begin by talking about some of the examples of pupils’ creativity. Make this a starting point for reviewing your own teaching strategies (you could use the above checklists).

How could you work together to improve pupils’ ability to ask questions? To explore ideas and alternatives? To evaluate ideas and actions? What aspects of pupils’ creative thinking and behaviour might best be promoted through your particular subject?

Ask each teacher in your team to identify an opportunity for promoting pupils’ creativity in a planned lesson or activity and to build a creativity objective into the subject-specific objectives (for example to promote pupils’ ability to ask questions or explore ideas).

As a team, talk about how you could achieve these creativity objectives. Afterthe lessons, come back together as a team and compare and discuss outcomes.

How can senior managers and governors promote creativity?

Senior managers and governors play a vital role in establishing an environment in which creativity can flourish. The following checklist outlines some of the key steps they can take towards promoting pupils’ creativity throughout the school.

Value creativity as a school

  • build an expectation of creativity into your school’s learning and teaching policy
  • make sure that you value the creative process as well as the final product or outcome
  • show and share tangible changes that result from creativity
  • consider involving all the school in an event to experience and celebrate creative learning.

Encourage professional learning and development

  • develop a shared understanding of what your school means by creative learning
  • lead a staff meeting on how teachers promote pupils’ creativity
  • encourage the collaborative redesign of lessons
  • make sure teachers have time to work together to plan learning in more creative ways.

Build partnerships to enrich learning

  • work with higher education and other agencies to get new ideas and access to resources
  • ask your LEA or academy trust for support; it might be able to put you in contact with other schools focusing on creativity
  • work with external professionals, such as a dance group, to help change the school’s ethos.

Provide opportunities for pupils to work with creative people

  • provide opportunities for pupils to work with artists, musicians, performers, designers and other creative professionals
  • agree and provide key entitlements, such as the opportunity to work with artists, go to a theatre or learn a musical instrument
  • tap into the creativity of staff, parents and the local community

Provide a stimulating physical environment

  • make sure that pupils have the space they need to be creative; for example, space for movement in dance and drama, to create on a large scale in art and design
  • make sure that pupils have the resources they need to be creative; for example, high-quality materials, tools, apparatus, equipment
  • give pupils access to film, video and the internet, which can help them to connect their learning to everyday experiences
  • stimulate pupils’ curiosity by ensuring they have first-hand experience of natural and made objects, and the natural and built environments
  • involve pupils in creating a stimulating environment; for example, they could help redesign the playground, improve the school’s built and natural spaces, develop murals
  • celebrate creative learning in shared spaces, classrooms, outside areas and beyond school.

Manage time effectively

  • give pupils opportunities to explore, concentrate for extended periods of time, reflect, discuss and review
  • allow some flexibility in timetabling lessons, so that plans can be adjusted quickly
  • give pupils sustained time for some work; for example a whole afternoon instead of two separate lessons in a week
  • from time to time, set up a weekly project across the whole school, with a focus on creative learning
  • allocate time to being more adventurous; for example a day or week every term when you encourage staff to try out different approaches.

Celebrate pupils’ creativity

  • encourage, recognise and reward pupils’ creativity with words of praise and certificates of achievement
  • ask teachers to nominate quality examples of creative activities and responses and celebrate these at a school or year assembly for parents
  • encourage pupils to value the creativity of their peers


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