Recipe for Creativity

This section started out as a place to share the learning we did in our Master's cohort on creativity in educational practice. We had a unique experience of learning about the theory behind creativity in education, but also being able to experience it ourselves. However, through the course of the year after our cohort, we came to understand that creativity lives differently in our classrooms than what we had learned in theory and experienced ourselves, as adults.
Understanding some of the theory is important, but we now feel it is less of a recipe and more of a mindset. We always have the theory of the seven strands in the back of our minds, but we have also learned that communicating these strands to students is not always (and sometimes ever) desireable or useful. We have also learned that some strands are more important for our young learners than others.

In January 2014, we met to talk about where we have gone with creativity in our classrooms. Throughout last year, as we learned about creativity, we began infusing it more and more into our classrooms. In the beginning, our theory focused heavily on teaching students the vocabulary of the seven strands and developing various assessment tools that pulled on these strands. So far this school year, however, none of us have really even taught our students the vocabulary. It was interesting for us to see that we had ended up in the same place without really even talking about it. As we chatted, we realized that we all felt some of the vocabulary was valuable to teach students, but not all of it. We have all talked about idea generation as being an important thing for students to learn. We have all devoted time in our classrooms for students to develop banks of ideas. In that, we have also taught them to avoid early closure and settling on their first idea. We have also all emphasized prototyping and experimenting with ideas, and turning thought into form. Our students have spent time seeing if, practically, their ideas work. And the analytical stage has also been important for our students. Being able to reflect on different options and to evaluate ideas for their value is a significant skill in higher level thinking and creativity. As is reflecting on the process afterwards and being able to articulate the process that they went through to get from Point A to Point B.
Below, we will outline some of the theory. To see this theory in practice, please visit our stories section.

The Theory

In the section below, we will outline some of the theory that we learned that helps us have a good understanding of what the ingredients of creativity are. In this recipe, you can jump in at any point and add as little or as much as you are ready to take on. The results can be vastly different but always inspiring.
This is meant to be an outline of some of the ingredients you can play with in your recipe. It is not to be a formula or a prescription.


The Seven Strands of Creative Development

The seven strands of creative development were developed by Robert Kelly to help educators build an awareness of the processes that are at work during creative practice. Having a practical understanding of these strands will help you help your students go deeper in their creative practice, as well as avoid the factors that limit creative development.

Collaborative Development

Collaboration is the fuel that feeds creativity’s fire, which is why we mention it first. Creativity can be done in isolation, but collaboration tends to create more possibilities and help the creator come up with more and better ideas. Developing a culture within your classroom called plussing will help your students support each other. The concept of plussing was adapted to a business context by Pixar and focuses on adding to an idea, rather than detracting from it. Plussing is used in theatre in improvisation, a skill called "accept and advance." Too often we hear “that’s a good idea, but...” when it’s much more helpful and more positive to say, “that’s a good idea, and...” Spending this time building this positive culture in your room will create an environment that is open to new ideas and is ready for great ideas and innovation.

Self-instigative Development

Self-instigation can be a difficult skill to develop, especially if students have never been asked to make the decisions in their own learning before. When you ask them to come up with ideas, they may look at you with a puzzled expression, trying to figure out what you want. Self-instigation shifts the responsibility from the teacher to the student. The student is now in the driver’s seat, making decisions that are personally relevant and motivating.

Research/Investigative Development

The research strand and the generation strand work together. Idea generation needs a lot of inspiration, and investigating meets that need. Students seek out stimuli and inspiration from all kinds of people and places. This phase may also include practical research, such as learning a new skill needed for the project or finding the best platform for an idea. You may run into students who have "creative block" - adding more creative stimuli in the form of inspiration and investigation will get that student on the right track.

Generative Development

Generation is when the possibilities come out. A student creates a big list of potential ideas and possibilities. When students are engaged in generation, they are diverging. The divergent-convergent pulse that emerges when students are in a cycle of generation and experimentation moves ideas forward and puts them into form.

Experimentational Development

It’s important for students to prototype ideas before settling on a decision. Experimentation allows students to do this. This will help students see if their idea will work or not, or identify any changes that need to be made. When these changes are identified, students will shift back to generation. This is the divergent-convergent pulse described above. Experimentation is all about play. This strand lets a student tryanal something out, play with an idea, and keep shifting it until it gets to be something they are happy to pursue. In experimentation, failure is inevitable, and in fact desirable. There are possibilities and opportunities that will only emerge through failure. Failure means: prototype again. That's all.

Analytical Development

Analysis helps students consider their ideas, prototypes, and forms and decide which route to take. Analysis is essential for students to move from diverging to converging on an idea. The student will consider the options and select the one that works best to solve their particular problem.

Creative Sustain Development

Creative Sustain comes when students are able to stick with an idea and a creative project for extended periods of time. Students need to develop characteristics of perseverance and determination to experience creative sustain. This will let students push themselves past “good enough” and into a state where they’re really proud of what they were able to accomplish.

The Learning Experience Design Model

Robert Kelly also designed a three-tiered framework to facilitate lesson or unit design across the disciplines.  There must be a balance between creative development and skill acquisition.  The Learning Experience Design Model is differentiation and personalization at its best.  Beginning with Type 1 experiences, students learn the skills, vocabulary, and strategies.   They then progress towards Type 2 experiences that are co-owned between the student and teacher as the students begin to experiment.  Type 3 activities are self-instigated and allow students to delve deeply into the seven strands of creativity.

Type 1

Students need subject knowledge and background information before they can engage in a creative project. Type 1 activities allow students to learn the skills, vocabulary, and knowledge in a subject discipline. Some examples might help clarify this.
Grade 8 Science: Let’s suppose students in grade 8 science are learning about fresh and saltwater systems. In Type 1 activities, students learn about the water systems, water quality, erosion and deposition, climate, glaciers, adaptations to aquatic systems, and human impact on water.
Kindergarten: In the beginning of an exploration about the needs of trees and plants, students learned the vocabulary to describe the different parts of a plant or tree, as well as the needs.  They went outside to sketch, looked at stop time animation films on the computer, and began planting seeds in our class garden to watch and document plant growth.  Different art techniques, such as water colour painting and charcoal sketching were taught so that students could begin to represent their knowledge.

Type 2

Type 2 activities allow students to explore creativity in a safe and often short-term way. Students will use the new skills and knowledge gained in Type 1 activities to apply to a more conceptual context.
Grade 8 Science: Students engage in several activities designed by the teacher to demonstrate an understanding of the skills and knowledge they have gained. The teacher asks the students to demonstrate erosion by designing a simulation. The students create a Prezi to show their understanding of the water cycle. The students explore a hypothetical scenario, “What if there’s an earthquake in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Divide shifts, sending all water towards the Pacific ocean?” Students choreograph an interpretive dance to show the characteristics of a stream.
Kindergarten: After having explored and compared different plants and trees, as well as different methods of representation, the teacher asks the students to sketch a plant or tree of their choice and then choose an art medium to represent their drawing. Some students chose watercolour, some charcoal and still others used cardboard, pipe cleaners, paper and  plasticine to prototype .

Type 3

Students create a learning scenario where they self-instigate their own creative exploration. Type 3 activities will rarely be completely open ended, since you are still required to cover your subject’s curriculum. However, students will experience all seven strands of creative development in Type 3 activities. Students assume complete ownership of their work through this phase.
Grade 8 Science: The teacher challenges the students to, “Invent a way to make dirty water clean.” There is no outcome that is the “right answer,” but students do need to access their understanding of water, systems, and filtration to figure out a way to do this. Students generate ideas together with a group. They diverge by suggesting several possible solutions to the design challenge. They converge when they settle on one example to prototype. They test their solution, find the problems with it, and then fix them. Creative sustain will take them through the building process. They create a final test to demonstrate that their idea will work, and then they show their design to their teacher and classmates. All groups in the classroom will have different solutions to the same challenge.
Kindergarten: Type 3 looks different in a Kindergarten setting. The exploration time may be shorter and the teacher needs to look for creative sustain, or the ability of the student to take the ideas learned and apply it in a different way.  Stephanie’s students chose vastly different ways of applying their knowledge.  One wrote a planting guide, complete with scientific drawings of plants, what they need to grow and the steps to planting. Another created a landscape mural, depicting different trees that we laminated as a playmat used for creative play.

Space As A Collaborative Tool

makespace:  How To Set The Stage For Creative Collaboration  by Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft at the Stanford is a valuable resource that explains not only the importance of creative spaces, but how to thoughtfully and purposefully transform your space to support and encourage collaboration.
The art of designing creative learning experiences within a collaborative space is also about changing attitudes.  Students are moving from being told what to do and how to do it towards a culture of problem setting. This means they learn to act outside the box, rather than think outside the box.
So, how to best do this? Think of your classroom as a prototyping space. If we are teaching students to generate ideas and then bring thought to form in the experimentational development phase, then they must have ready access to a variety of materials and the space to display work in progress. When redesigning the environment, consider setting up different areas set up for students to work collaboratively or independently. The organization of materials so that everyone has access is important too. Students need surface space to leave work in progress.
Students can have input into this process as well, therefore increasing student ownership and pride in their space. The outcome is well worth the effort:  A thoughtfully designed space increases student engagement and productivity.

Space As An Idea Accelerator

As soon as you walk in the space, there should be no mistaking what exploration is taking place. Student work should be thoughtfully grouped and displayed, along with photographs, books and other stimuli that will serve to fuel student idea generation.  This not only motivates students to investigate or push their knowledge further, it also allows students to be engaged as soon as they enter the room.

Collaboration and a Safe Culture

We have identified three conditions to create a collaborative and safe culture:

1. Building community.
2. Experimenting with low-risk creative activities.
3. Collaboration as fuel for the fire.

It’s important that teachers are purposeful about creating a positive, safe culture in their classrooms before students are asked to take risks in creativity. Students need to understand that they will be supported and encouraged in their risk-taking. Plussing should be a baseline rule in the classroom. This helps create a status-free environment. When hierarchies are broken down and all participants have equal say and share in the classroom, creativity can flourish.
At the beginning of your exploration into creativity, community building exercises are valuable. The at Stanford does improv exercises with its participants. is a cross-discipline design centre to tackle big problems. Though is for adult students, they also have a design lab that works with K - 12 students, and use improv games frequently with participants. They have a list of great ones here.
The next step would be to engage the students in a safe exploration of a design problem.  Possible design problems would be to redesign the doorknob or redesign the teabag. Erin has used the site Institute of Play’s Gamekit to challenge students to create games using every day materials.
Group design explorations are more successful when everyone shares the same currency.  Give them advance warning to generate a shortlist of their own ideas. Never send students to a brainstorming session without having some time to brainstorm their own ideas first. They will be more apt to share with one other person first.  Robert Kelly has his graduate students begin with speed dating.  Position enough chairs for everyone in two rows facing each other, about one foot apart.  Students will have about  5 minutes to share their ideas with the person in front of them, then shift down to the left or right to meet a new classmate.  Plussing is a must, and they can add others’ ideas to their own list.  It is important to point out that once an idea is put out to the group, it is shared and others are free to expand on it.  Erin has written about how this worked for middle school students here. For Kindergarten students, this type of sharing is effective when done orally as a quick think-pair-share with a couple of different partners, then a list is generated together as a whole group.  Another visual idea in keeping with the metaphor of time would be to prepare visual cards of clocks that serve to inform students who they will be “dating.”  Write the names of four students at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 so that students know who they need to meet with.  

You could have students use a clock template like this to organize the students “dates”:

When students share their ideas and work with each other, this springboards further idea generation. Once students have gained enough creative maturity to self-instigate their creative work, collaboration continues to be important. Even having students share what they’re working on with each other can spark an idea in a seemingly unconnected project. Stephanie frequently has her kindergarten students do a tour of the room at the end of a creative work session. The students share what they had been working on, and other students “plus” their work. This helps them set a direction for what they might work on the next day, and often sparks ideas that students never would have thought of on their own.


Ongoing, formative assessment is one of the keys to a successful creative project. Providing students with feedback as they make their way through the seven strands will help them know what they might need to do next. Assessment for Learning can take the form of self, peer, and teacher assessment.
Self assessment and reflection is a powerful tool students can use to help themselves realize what their next steps are. We have developed two assessment tools that are useful in this self-assessment. We field tested both of them, and found they gave students the language they needed to be able to speak to what processes they were going through as they created. One tool is aimed at young learners (and there’s a copy in French too!), and one tool is aimed at middle years and secondary learners. Please go to the Resources section to download a copy. And we'd love to hear from you: have you created your own assessment tool? Adapted one? Let us know!


We maintain that feedback and assessment are not synonymous. Feedback is essential for a student to develop through the strands. Ongoing, specific feedback from teachers and peers will help a student develop creative confidence. Gentle, positive feedback from a teacher will help the students acclimatize to the seven strands. The teacher’s encouragement and support will help students take risks in their learning, and will help them develop their skill in the seven strands. Collaboration is particularly important here, too - classmates can become useful sounding boards for ideas, especially if they consistently “plus” each other.


To go deep into creative exploration, students need time. There’s no way around it. Teachers may feel anxious about their curricular demands and wish to shorten the time devoted to creativity. Trust that to feel anxious is normal. But you’ll be surprised by how many curricular outcomes you will cover through creative development. All seven strands are present in Language Arts curriculums - idea generation, development of a plan, collaboration, and problem-solving are all part of the process, and are often present in Language Arts curriculums. In science and math, explorations into problem-solving and higher order thinking skills can be achieved through creative work.
This is an excellent opportunity to plan cross-disciplinary studies with trusted colleagues who are similarly intrigued by incorporating creative development into their teaching.


Now you have the foundation to get started on implementing creativity into your teaching practice. Start as small as you want to.  In our experience, begin with where you are comfortable take more risks as you see evidence of increased student engagement. Good luck! We are confident you are going to have so much fun exploring creativity with your students.

The Creativity Collective
July 2013
Edited and adapted February 2014


Kelly, R., & Leggo, C. D. (2008). Creative expression, creative education: creativity as a primary rationale for education. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises.
Kelly, R. W. (20122012). Educating for creativity: a global conversation. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Brush Education.

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