There is a specific activity I often use in creative thinking skills workshops which works wonderfully well. I learnt it from T.Richards, during a lecture in Athens some years ago (pls see note at end).
It’s called the “Yes, and…” activity In this activity, one person, or the teacher even, begins by positing something, anything. For example, “We’re having pizza tonight” and everyone else, in turn, has to add on to, elaborate on this statement. Some of the things you might hear in such cases, are…
- “Yes, and, I especially love pizza with pepperoni!’
- “Yes, and I am thinking, too, of ordering some for later on”
- “Yes, and don’t I wish we some right now”
- Yes, and I have noticed that some people like to drink Coke with their pizza”
- Yes, and I have been craving for pizza too. Why don’t we have some right now?”
Things get tougher a few turns later when people run out of ideas and have to keep adding positive, “yes, and…” ideas.
Some break down and begin to blurt out, “Yes, but…..” . This is not allowed; it is an absolute no, no!
If you try the opposite with “Yes, but, ….” most people can go on for hours…. Why is it that people find opposition and contradiction easier, is a true mystery to me
Contradicting often does not build, but disrupts the creative thinking process, both in the contradictor as well as in the team trying to build something, from an argument to a marketing campaign or even a skyscraper!
In order to practise “elaboration”, one of the microskills (not a very accurate term – microskill for ‘elaboration’ but it will do for the time being) of creative thinking, it is necessary to add to and to build on something, rather than to pull it apart and contradict it.
Why Practise Elaboration?
A lot of the world’s greatest inventions were created because someone noticed how an existing gadget or invention could be improved by adding or changing part of it.
In the world of ELT, most of the stuff has been said in some way or form a long time ago. I remember the first person who openly and honestly acknowledged this in front of a huge audience during one of his talk at TESOL Greece was Stephen Krashen. But he created something out of the concept that made it more popular, more directly accessible as a theory of learning, he elaborated on the thinking of previous educators and developed the L2 Acquisition theory we associate with his name so readily.
Elaboration in language learning is the thinking skill which will help us build on what we know to create something new, often innovative; it’s the skill we need most to avoid writing simplistic and bare-bones text, so, to the language teacher, it’s an interesting skill and that’s why I have developed an interest in it.
As a teacher educator, I have a vested interest in developing my trainees’ creative thinking skills and part of a teacher’s job frequently requires them to build on existing materials and create something new, improved and more challenging out of them.
As a building block to developing creative thinking skills in teachers and learners, as a well as a more positive attitute to collaborative problem solving, I think it’s an important ability to help them develop.
The “Yes, but…” attitude
A lot of what I get these days is the “Yes, but…” attitude, and I don’t just mean all the discussions against the use of technology in education.
Before that came to my sphere of awareness, I have had to deal with so many “Yes, but…” attitudes, about almost anything I try to educate my trainee teachers to do.
When they go out into the world of work, it is exactly this attitude they have to face in the workplace. “Yes, but what you learnt is fine for …(always it’s for someone else) but in our school, class, area, country it won’t work…”
Helping them to be more creative thinkers as well, may help them find some creative ways of working out these issues, rather than live in silence and succumb to the pressure of those who are either ignorant or fear change because it upsets theis safe, small but well padded world.
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Richards, T., 1993, Ideas into Action: How Creativity & Innovation are Driving Modern Business Life. Public Lecture for the Athens L.B.A.