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Techniques to Jumpstart Students' and Teachers' Creativity

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Techniques to Jumpstart Students' and Teachers' Creativity


“Creativity takes courage.” (Henri Matisse)


The education establishment is now recognizing the importance of creativity, a sadly forgotten learned skill and art, so there is a chance the core of the Common Core might sneak back into the classroom once again after years of absence.


My History in Creativity from the Sixties to the Present


“Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.” (Edwin Land)


I started teaching in 1968 when teaching was more about creativity and motivation.  I came into an inner-city classroom in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York with a dozen education credits from the Intensive Teacher Training Program given at Queens College (NY).  I guess this was similar in some ways to today’s quickie teacher programs.


I did not veer away from those two words, which have had little use in education until recently.  Oh yes, it has been decided that creativity is so important that we need more of it.  Then comes the onslaught of creative experts and their "programs" that have the cures and answers for students.


How fickle is our education system?  The powers that be, along with the self-appointed visionaries who will re-invent education, really scare me at times.  Where is this going?  Will education discover a better place with all the phenomenal technology—this new resurrection?  Will education rise out of the ashes and fly into paradise, or, will it once again, become another “paradise lost”?


An Article titled, “Creativity and Education: Why It Matters”


“I’m experimental by nature…always exploring my creativity.” (Christine Aguilera)


An article from the Arts Council (Hillsborough County, Florida) titled, “Creativity and Education: Why It Matters” (3/2713), had some telltale results from a survey of 1000 business professionals, and also, education majors conducted by Adobe Systems.


For business professionals: 71% “say creative thinking should be 'taught as a class—like math or science.’” (Yes!)  They also said “creativity is not just a personality trait, but a learned skill.”  (Yes!)  78% wished “they had more creative ability.”  Their definition of creative thinking is “thinking out of the box” or “the ability to come up with innovative ideas.”  The study concluded that: “Creativity and creative thinking deserve a bigger role in education.  (Yes!)  91% agree that there is more to preparing for success in school than learning subjects, and 82% wish they had more exposure to creative thinking as students.  (Yes!) 72% say they were more focused on course subject material when they were in school than on creative thinking.”  (Sorry, but creative thinking is not taught enough in the schools.  Creativity, Creative Thinking, and The Creative Imagination would make a great course from elementary school through college.)


For education majors, the following are key results: 75% “viewed creativity as important in school.” (Yes!) 86% “say creativity is important in their career.”  (Absolutely!)  68% “say creativity is something you are born with and also something you can learn.”  (Maybe?)  But one result did bother me: “Only 48% believe creative thinking currently has a place in their career.”  (That's sad.)


Response to the article, “Why Creativity Matters”


“It is better to create than to be learned, creating is the true essence of life.” (Edwin Land)


Where do I begin?  Many interesting points and ideas are brought out by the study.  Creativity and creative thinking are relevant and should be given as a separate course of study.  This change would shake up the education worlds of students and teachers in positive ways.


Creativity is the “common core” of all school children, as well as the “core” of the Common Core subjects.  And you have heard this before, but everyone is creative, yet education erases the creative selves and lives of kids.  Creativity is the spark, motivation, inner drive that spawns the hunger to read, learn, think, study, and to be there in present time, to live in the now. Creativity is the connection and skill that empowers youth to start the journey of self-awareness, awareness of others and the world from the inside out.


According to the survey results for education majors, they are “pro-creativity”; however, the majority doesn’t see “creative thinking” as significant to their careers.  To me, after spending years thinking creatively in inner city classrooms, I found that this skill was indispensable to my survival, career, and the kids’ worlds.  I had to make things up, create something from nothing, to un-create and then re-create teaching and learning, as I knew and defined it.


The definitions of creative thinking given by the business professionals ask a lot from the people: Is it only “thinking out of the box” and “coming up with innovative ideas”?  That seems like an unreal expectation for this skill, in my opinion.  As already mentioned, creativity and/or creative thinking mean “creating something from nothing” or, more simply, “making up stuff.Creative thinking in my world is “learning to enjoy one’s self in thought.”  It is a “good time” in the self-amusement park of the imagination, where the inner eye navigates through the mind and imagination in search of ideas, thoughts, images, memories, dreams, feelings, reflections, and experiences.


Kids take “joy rides” in their heads, encountering fantastic, real, surreal, and absurd worlds.  They become the avatars checking out or scoping, in a similar fashion to video games/computer games, this inner landscape to see what’s there, what they’re capable of discovering, and what the possibilities are for an inner space odyssey.  Going on the voyage is like the spaceship Enterprise traveling through the endless universe in search of new planets, worlds, life, and people.  The inner space trip is unlimited, because there is no end to the imagination, it keeps going on and on and on, it’s about the dream, to dream on and on and on…


One Theory of Creativity for Classroom Teachers


“Life isn’t about finding yourself.  It is about creating yourself.” (George Bernard Shaw)


We create ourselves as teachers, and at the same time, un-create, re-create, and create the students sitting in front of us on a daily basis.  Isn’t the classroom a home for building creativity?  By developing creativity and creative thinking in our kids, aren’t we giving them choices and the tools to create, improve (re-create), discover, and expand their creative selves?  And with these newfound realizations, aren’t children seeing who they are and becoming more mindful and self-aware?


Creativity and creative thinking lead kids to self-discovery, self-motivation, and self-education.  Their sparks open up everything by illuminating the inner worlds of delights, the dream-like countries most kids don’t realize they possess.  The snowball effects/affects of creativity do not stop as if a brick wall comes up abruptly, because all its “residuals” will seep into and penetrate the Common Core subjects.  With the connection made between a child’s inner and outer worlds, she gains a new perspective of, and an insight to, the basic subjects; she finds a purpose for learning and studying from the open-mindedness triggered by creativity, creative thinking, and her creative self.  These skills give her alternatives, fresh choices, new ideas, and the motivation that will compel her to want something because she wants it.


Creativity/creative thinking should be a Common Core subject like math and science.  Imagine this: What would it be like in 21st century classrooms if kids learned about creativity in and of itself?  How would the course affect the other courses she took?  What are the possibilities that creativity offers to art, music, drama, and language arts?  Think about Albert Einstein’s quotations about imagination: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world” and “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”


As educators, we should try to re-create the uncreated imagination, consciousness, conscience, and emotional intelligence of students.  If we can’t do it, who will? We are shutting down students’ creative lives by testing, and the latest vogue, “Common Core,” will not better things.  The No Child Left Behind Act has simmered down somewhat, and will hopefully fade into oblivion, but then the ominous sounding Common Core enters the picture and everything seems to be turning dim again...


It’s not just the computer, I-pad, I-phone, social media, and the Internet that will change the face of education.  It’s not only technology that will spin kids into learning about new worlds.  You will need a special treatment to soften the tedium of the computer screen, and that would be creativity, with all the skills it leads to that will humanize the education process.  If human consciousness can be revamped through this saving combination, we can possibly affect the frightening direction the world is currently heading in…


If 82% percent of business professionals “wish they had more exposure to creative thinking as students,” does it mean that people cannot become creative thinkers on-the-job?  Are their journeys into creativity over?  Are they just not creative?  When I first started teaching, I found that my sparse education background and experience in teaching left me to my own initiative and resources in the classroom.  I had to teach my way out of this situation by finding my creativity ("think out of the box"), or lose control of the children who sat in front of me.


My Creative Journey Begins


“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” (Mary Lou Cook)


I made things up.  I learned the basics of reading, language arts, math, and social studies lessons through school workshops, which proved helpful.  However, after awhile, I realized that the students were bored with the same old lesson formats, and were not in present time while I taught, and, I wasn’t having fun teaching…


I found a pile of old Life magazines in a closet and enjoyed the amazing photographic images that imprinted themselves in my mind.  One photo, I recall, showed runners at the starting line of a big race.  I asked the kids to describe what they were looking at and added a question: “What are the runners thinking?”  I said to the class: “I don’t know what they’re thinking.  Your guess is as good as mine.  Brainstorm five thoughts they might be thinking.  Put yourself in the runners’ place, pretend you’re them, imagine, yeah, imagine, and then brainstorm or create answers in your mind and write them on your paper.  The answers can be serious or funny or whatever you choose them to be—that’s fine.”


“The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series”


“Creative thinking—in terms of creativity—is not a mystical talent.  It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.” (Edward de Bono)


I began morning work with what I called “The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series” by scotch taping one to four pictures/photos on the board with questions written below.  After brainstorming/writing their responses, the kids read them orally and we discussed what was expressed.  The students learned to enjoy themselves in thought and to think creatively.  This daily activity started their venture into creativity and their creative selves.  It was entertaining for the children to be in their private fun houses or the self-amusement parks of the imaginations.


I used an opaque projector to show the magazine pictures on a screen and, on the entire wall in front of the room.  For example, I had a close-up photograph of Skippy, my wife’s chirpy happy-go-lucky green parakeet with a yellow head, in his cage.  The projector flashed a giant image and the kids went nuts; it was like they were at the movies, only it was the “still movies,” which they enjoyed one frame-at-a-time.  And the questions were: What is Skippy thinking and feeling?  What was he imagining in his birdbrain and mind?  What did he want to do?  Where did he want to go?  What were his bird thoughts?  You can take your pick of the questions, ask kids to brainstorm answers, read aloud their responses, and discuss them.


With this type of creative thinking lesson, and a first step into creativity, you had what I call a cross-fertilization of ideas where children learned how others think and could absorb their creative processes and blend them into their own thinking.  Also, students brought in pictures, photographs, and ads from magazines and newspapers to use in the creative thinking lessons.


And don’t forget the advertisements: I cut out a graphic ad for a well-known soup company promoting their tomato soup.  In it you saw two big mugs with tomato soup and a square of butter melting in them.  The children described what they saw in the picture and then I asked: “What are the butters saying to each other?  Or, if you want to take this into a more in-depth task: Write an imaginary conversation between the two butters.  What might they be saying or expressing to each other?  Totally absurd and ridiculous, but just what kids like…


I also put on slide shows for my classes: There were all sorts of images, for example, “clouds that look like things,” and slides created for the creative thinking shows such as “sea shells” set up in different formations.  With the clouds, especially those that looked like faces, I asked: “What are they thinking, feeling, imagining, and experiencing?”  The redundancy of the questions did not bore them or diminish their creativity because each image presented a completely different situation.


Beyond the creativity and creative thinking developed by the picture series, there were other skills that resulted: empathy, sensitivity, tolerance, writing, sense of humor, listening, observation, and speaking.  The skills are part of emotional intelligence and academic learning.  Creativity led to greater awareness of what goes on inside students’ minds and imaginations, what they’re thinking and feeling.  They became more self-aware because this is an internal education, and it initiates a fresh appreciation and understanding of other people and external reality.  The learned skill of creativity is not just about the skill itself, but also what it opens up in the student.  Call this a “whole child” approach to creative thinking.  (See my article titled "The Creative Imagination and Its Impact on 21st Century Literacies" in the 2013 New Jersey English Journal," pages 23 - 29, for more in formation about the picture series and my creative projects. To receive a copy of the article, contact me at my gmail address: jeffreyppflaum@gmail.com.


“The Inner Cities Poetry Arts Project”


From The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series I moved onto poetry reading and writing, which was eventually named “The Inner Cities Poetry Arts Project.”  I did not feel comfortable teaching poetry and had the same difficulties as most people in interpreting the more esoteric poets.  To introduce the project, I read poems that were more concrete and filled with imagery and strong emotion the kids could relate to: Native American, Japanese, Chinese, African-American, Latino, American/European/Caucasian, and Children's poetry.


To preface the oral poetry reading, I asked students to visualize the words and see the pictures the poets created with them, and also, what thoughts, ideas, feelings, and connected real life experiences they triggered in the mind.  "Sit back, listen, and enjoy the poetry, but don’t space out…”


From reading poetry I ventured into writing it, with little or no experience of my own.  I felt if this would work, it would be the creativity learned in the picture series, plus the poetry reading lessons, that would “make” child poets out of the students.


To introduce poetry writing, I returned to pictures/paintings as an inspiration for creativity, creative thinking, and poetry.  I used color poster prints (20” x 30”), magazine and newspaper pictures, photos, and, original slide shows.  In each case four images were presented.


One poster print that the kids liked was the famous Van Gogh painting of his room.  I had students describe what they saw, asking them to study the poster for a minute, and talk about it.  Like the creative thinking series, they discussed whatever feelings, thoughts, and real life experiences the picture conjured up.  Description and discussion for each picture were brief.


“The Trigger Method of Creativity”


“Creativity is what transforms.” (Ron Johnson)


Next, I asked them to brainstorm ideas triggered by the painting in the form of titles for possible poems.  They brainstormed and wrote five to ten titles, which were read orally by the students.  I filled the board with them.  When the brainstorming activity was completed, the kids wrote poems using the titles as sparks or triggers.


This “Trigger Method of Creativity” was successful at generating several poems from each student.  There was a lot of creativity and creative thinking that impacted the kids before writing: from observation. description, and discussion of the picture to individually brainstorming titles, and then to oral brainstorming/discussion of the titles by the class, which led to poetry writing.


The children cranked up enough mental-emotional fuel to write.  By the time they got to the potential titles for poems, the students were ready to write.  In most cases they wrote free-verse poetry because the poetry I read aloud was this type.  The poetry was easier to assimilate because it was closer to prose or spoken language than rhyming poems.


I chanced going into poetry, pushing my limits, and was happy with the results, and so were the students, even though they thought I was a little crazy for teaching it.  I explained that the songs they listened to, like rap, hip-hop, rock, Top 40, and dance music, were really poetry made into songs, but poetry nevertheless.  This framework helped them see poetry in a more positive light.  (To see examples of my students' published poetry in college, writers', gifted secondary, and children's literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and books, go to my website at www.JeffreyPflaum.com. See my BAM Radio Network blog post, "Contemplation Writing Leads to Poetry Writing," (7/16/12), for more samples of student poetry.


“The Contemplation Music Writing Project”


“Creativity is what helps me escape my inner demons.” (Demi Lovato)


But this was not the end of my journey “into the wild.”  I used another vehicle, music, to help students find their creativity, creative selves, and real selves with “The Music Technique.In this approach to creativity, reality, and mindfulness, I played music for 10 minutes while the kids put their heads softly down on the desk, closed their eyes, “contemplated their experiences, wrote about the inner events on 4” x 6” lined index cards afterward, read them orally to the class, and discussed the writings with classmates.


Their “contemplations” were probed further with my questions on the mind-pictures, feelings, thoughts, and experiences the writings triggered inside them.  Once the ice was broken in our early discussions, the kids opened up and talked about their lives, and digressed into other experiences unrelated to those read aloud.  A new world of self-expression and open-mindedness resulted.  This was a “creation,something I made up out of the need to soothe the kids after they returned from lunch in hyper moods.


To introduce young people to their inner worlds of experience, in preparation for the Music Technique, I started with “The Counting Technique.In this inner concentration activity, children counted backwards by ones, silently, from 50 to 1, with their eyes closed.  When they finished counting, they took a minute to recall, reflect on, and think about what they experienced while counting, and then wrote about it.  We discussed the writings and experiences afterward.  The key was to keep focusing on counting the numbers even though there might—and probably would—be other experiences such as thoughts, feelings, and/or pictures interrupting things.


And that was what usually happened: memories came up, fantasies imagined, dreams, present moment events, along with all sorts of feelings of happiness, joy, fear, anger, and things they never felt before, not to mention all those crazy thoughts that tripped up the counting, for example, “feeling lost in space,” “feeling they were on the moon,” “running around in the dark,” and “seeing and visualizing frogs hopping,” are just some of their counting experiences.  The kids were told that if these things popped up while counting and made them lose count, they should re-focus and bring their concentration back to counting the numbers.


(For more information about “Contemplation Music Writing,” see my BAM Radio Network posts titled, “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs, Parts 1 – 5.”  There are guest-blog posts at Edutopia (www.edutopia.org) under the title of “Music Writing.”  Samples of the students’ contemplations, themes from their writings, published articles, newspaper pieces, and Internet interviews about the project can be found at my website: www.JeffreyPflaum.com.)


More Brainstorming Techniques to Trigger Creativity


If the Music and Counting Techniques did not open the mind’s eye to different experiences (inner and outer), I made up “jump-starters” that helped kids think creatively.  For instance, I already mentioned the brainstorming technique used for the creative thinking series and the poetry writing series.  In the former, the kids brainstormed ideas, or answers, to the questions from the pictures presented.  They stormed one idea after another to get the best possible responses.  Ideas came in the form of sentences, dialogues, thoughts, and experiences.  With poetry writing, they brainstormed ideas in the form of titles for poems they would eventually write.


To expand creativity and creative thinking, I demonstrated other brainstorming methods: “picture-storming,” “word-storming,and "sentence-storming.Picture storming is making up one picture after another in the mind/imagination: pop, pop, pop, one image after another until they see and find the one they like, the one they want for a response or for writing fiction and/or non-fiction.  I said to the class: “You would be surprised at what your mind and imagination can conjure up.  Remember that inner space, the imagination, is like outer space, there is no end, it’s unlimited, infinite.”


Word storming is a method that gave their minds a “jolt,” some lightning and thunder to rattle their brains, so they could go creative.  For example, I used the word “tree,” and asked them to write a list of whatever words came to mind when they think of it.  Or, make it less open by asking them to write words that were connected to the spark word "tree."  This was another way to get kids thinking creatively: show them that words do not live alone or isolated in the mind, but rather, live in groups or clusters.  By “storming” the mind in search of words, this would help build their ability to create, and to think and write creatively.  Word storming, picture storming, and brainstorming also empowered kids to appreciate the thinking process.  They showed that “storming” is a way that led to their inner worlds, and it could be a fun, self-entertaining show-of-shows for their private, and then public, appreciation.


Sentence storming is an original technique for sparking the creative imagination.  To make this a little more interesting, I asked the class to make up one silly sentence after another, which, because it was an absurd and ridiculous task, they enjoyed doing.  This gave kids an opportunity and an incentive to experiment with their imagination, see where it might take them, the new places and inner landscapes they had no idea existed inside them.  Children can also sentence storm reality-based sentences, in the hopes that this strategy would affect them when writing fiction or non-fiction narratives.  They could keep triggering sentences in their minds, and eventually get to the one(s) they liked, or the best one, the one that fits, and keep writing a piece while intermittently applying sentence storming when they ran out of words/sentences.


Keep making things up.   Experiment: take a chance to open things up for students—and you.  Once I got started with creativity, it kept snowballing because I became more open to things, my mind and imagination saw things sideways, upside-down, and three-dimensionally.  My inner world became like a hologram where words seemed different and took on new and imaginary lives, all ideas that I thought would intrigue children about words, making them more than just black-on-white.


Imaginary Word Problems


“Imaginary Word Problems” plays around with words, trying to get at the creative aspects inherent in them.  It attempts to combine different words with the basic arithmetic operations of adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying.  Sounds absurd, right?  If these imaginary word problems make silly sense to the class and you, it will get kids to think a little bit differently about words and allow them to have fun and see them in an imaginative and motivating manner.


For example: “1,000 butterflies x 1,000 butterflies = what?  Where does this imaginary word problem take you?  Find the mind-pictures created and solve the problem.  Have fun with this absurd task and write a response describing and/or drawing what you see, your experience of, this imaginary ‘multiplication word-problem.’”


Example:  “Sunlight divided into clouds = what?  What would happen?  Visualize where the ‘division’ of sunlight into clouds will lead you.  First, try to imagine the picture the division creates in your mind.  Second, solve it by writing a description of, or drawing, what you see.”


There are many “play modes” that can be applied to words, for instance: “Draw an abstract picture of the word ‘confidence’ by using lines, shapes, and forms of any kind to describe what you visualize in the mind.  When you finish the drawing (masterpieces not necessary), explain the reasons behind your work.  Why did you draw ‘confidence’ in this way?  What does the word  ‘confidence’ mean to you?”  (This is not an easy question to answer.)


Also, ask students to tape their work to the board or hold them up for the class to see, so everyone can see the differences and similarities of how “confidence” is viewed.  The whole activity is a visual way to define words—something a little different to give adolescents a fresh perspective on words.


Another quirky word activity is called “What’s in a name?”  One day a friend called me up and started the conversation by repeating my name, “Jeffrey Pflaum,” over and over again.  He kept saying it and made me crazy, as he cracked up on the other end of the line.  Using this experience, I asked students to do the same thing with their names: “Say your name, silently, over and over to yourself for one minute and then write whatever the experience triggered in your mind.  Write your thoughts, feelings, images, and words that came up while saying your name.”  They read aloud their experiences orally and we discussed them through my questions.


You can also throw in this: “Think of a word that makes you feel good and say it over and over to yourself silently for one minute.  Write about your experience.  We’ll read aloud what went through your mind and imagination and discuss the experiences.” (See my BAM Radio Network blog post titled, “Vocabulary Creativity and Expansion: Imaginary Word Problems,” 11/11/12, for information about these original, fun, absurd, creative word activities.)


“A Penny For Your Thoughts”


From “playing-with-words” I created a lesson on “playing-with-thoughts,” called “A Penny For Your Thoughts.”  I explained the background to how we use the saying today, for example, if you see a person sitting and looking distracted or lost in their thoughts, you might say politely: “A penny for your thoughts,” meaning, what are you thinking about?


I converted this saying into a lesson by instructing the class: “I’m going to say ‘A penny for your thoughts,’ and afterward, you write down a thought triggered in your mind, whatever that may be.”  At the time I had a huge jar of pennies saved at home and gave each child a penny after they expressed a thought in the follow-up discussion.  I rattled off the saying many times and asked them to read aloud their thoughts to the rest of the class.  After The Creative Thinking Picture Series and The Contemplation Music Writing Project, the kids were well-versed in how to focus in and concentrate on their thinking processes and thoughts.  When working with this type of creativity and creative thinking task, expect anything and keep an open mind to the children’s responses.  Usually the discussions and conversations in the activity were fun, lively, and surreal because of the nature of the lesson.  (See my BAM Radio Network blog post titled, “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” 2/12/13, for more information about this entertaining activity for stimulating thinking, creative thinking, and creativity.)


“Reading Sparks” to Pump Up Motivation


A motivational lesson that triggers kids’ thinking and creative thinking processes, and also, reveals their attitudes toward reading, is “Reading Sparks.To find out, without asking students directly, what they really think about reading, I brainstormed a list of “sparks” or “prompts” that would be read orally or written on the board.  The class responds by writing about whatever—this is the key word again because it keeps the door open to all and any thoughts in their heads—the sentence or phrase triggers inside them.  Explain to the class: “What does the spark mean to you?  What does it say to you?  Does it describe your reading experience?  If so, how?”  Let them reflect and write responses that will be read aloud, discussed, and probed with questions.


Here are a few sample sparks:


  • Wherever you read, there you are.
  • Read and enjoy a good movie.
  • Everything you read becomes a part of you.
  • You are what you read.
  • You are what you create.
  • Your words are you.
  • Read: imagine, yeah, imagine…
  • Read to believe in you.
  • Bring yourself a little peace, quiet, and freedom: Read.


(See my BAM Radio Network blog post titled, “Motivating Ideas to Pump Up Adolescent Readers,” 10/2/12, for additional “Reading Sparks” to inspire reading and reading life experiences in kids.  There are more references for “Reading Sparks” at the end of this post.)


“Tweet Stories” and 50-Word Short, Short Stories


From opening up the thought faucets in kids’ minds and imaginations, take it a step further with “Tweet Stories.”  Explain to the class: “Write a short, short story using only 140 characters.  Count each letter and space between words and sentences until they add up to 140—and that’s it, that’s your very short story.  See if you can create a beginning, middle, and end to your story.  Have fun creating it and keeping it tiny.”


By minimizing the story plot to its bare bones, you are showing students the basic elements of the short story, that it has a beginning, middle, and end.  If they can manage this mini-story task and understand more about plotting, they prepare themselves for longer narratives and stories in the future.


Here’s a quick sample: A boy.  He looks and looks.  Sees the world: “Guka, guka.”  Eyes light up.  The world is bright.  Fingers grab to touch things.  Happy smiles.  Good day, sunshine, fun, fun, when you’re a little one.


I think you can see the beginning: the boy looking at the world as his eyes and the world light up.  In the middle: his fingers touch what he sees and he smiles.  The ending: it’s a good day and lots of fun as a little one.  It doesn’t have to be an exact count of 140 characters—just close enough.  You want to keep the stories extremely short.


The writing exercise can be used for fiction and non-fiction.  The 140-character tweet can work with Contemplation Music Writing: Ask children to compose their contemplation experiences after listening to music into writings of no more than 140 characters.  Have them compress their experiences into “tweets.”  This will hopefully produce more carefully crafted contemplation writings because they would try to find the best words to express what happened inside while listening to music.


You can take the 140-character tweet story and contemplation to the next level: creating a 50-word story/fiction or a contemplation of the same length.  Once again, you’re pushing kids to be more cautious and selective when writing their stories and expressing inner/outer experiences.  The “50-worder,” like the tweet-story, will help kids practice creating, composing, compressing, and writing short fiction and non-fiction pieces as a prelude to longer works.


My journey into creativity ends here, although it is far from over.  Inner space, the worlds of mind and imagination, continue to spin infinitely, so there still remains new approaches to creativity and creative thinking.  The process began with pictures, posters, photographs, and slides in The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series and advanced into poetry reading and writing.  More creativity and in-sight came through The Contemplation Music Writing Project where children learned to observe, listen to, and write about their inner worlds of experiences.  The Counting Technique also showed that the power of inner focusing and concentration are not all that easy because there are many distracting side-journeys coming from thoughts, feelings, images, and experiences.


If you want to expand children’s creative abilities, experiment with the different types of brainstorming described here, from word- to picture- to sentence-storming.  These triggers will help kids find their own creativity and creative worlds by practicing the methods on a regular basis.  The Trigger Method of Creativity will affect, improve, expand, and change the way young people see the worlds on the outside and inside.  To throw in more self-amusement, play with words through Imaginary Word Problems to give kids another look at and view of words, going beyond the black-on-white of the printed and computer page.  Keep up playing-with-words by asking students to define and describe words via abstract drawings or sketches of them.


From words go to thoughts and thinking via “A penny for your thoughts,” “tweeting” short, short stories and their contemplations, and writing very short stories of no more than 50 words.  In all the motivational activities described here, the students exchanged or cross-fertilized ideas as they read their responses orally to their classmates.  Kids learned how to think, think creatively, and to appreciate, as well as incorporate, their friends’ thinking processes into their own.  They were all steps into creativity: creating something from nothing in these original, absurd, entertaining, and challenging activities.


When attempting to reach children’s common creative core, we touch upon the inner landscapes that will illuminate what is on the inside and outside, and what will help them grow and progress.  Creativity is not coming alive now because education suddenly deems this as an important skill.  It has been left out and forgotten for years.  In the late 60s creativity was in the classroom, and then it disappeared in favor of drill and kill practice for the standardized exams.  What will happen with Common Core?


My purpose in this very long post is to show, mainly, that all teachers can make up things for students.  Yes, sit down and reflect on how you can make anything you teach, in whatever subject, more creative.  It’s about playing with ideas and experimenting, to take a chance once a week, and see what you and your students can come up with using a creative vision.  When you develop young people’s creativity, you will, at the same time, expand this learned skill in yourself.


For additional references and background to “Reading Sparks,” motivating adolescent readers, and creativity, check out the following book and BAM Radio Network blog posts:

  • Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers: How Teachers and Parents Can Lead the Way (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) by Jeffrey Pflaum



  • “Twenty-First Century Skills, Common Core, and Sports: The Connections,” 10/29/11, at www.bamradionetwork.com


  • "Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation in Reading: Which is the real deal?“, 11/15/11, at www.bamradionetwork.com.


  • “Experiences, Reflections, and Insights: A Project in Reading and Emotional Intelligence,” 1/14/12, at www.bamradionetwork.com


  • “A Novel EI Reading Experience for Adolescents: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach,” 2/5/12, at www.bamradionetwork.com


  • “Questions Educators Should Ask Themselves About Their Teaching Lives,” 6/12/12, at www.bamradionetwork.com
  • "A Kid's 'Book of Experiences' with Themes for Future Writing," 12/21/12, at www.bamradionetwork.com








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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

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