Creativity Booster: 16 Squares
The purpose of Creativity Booster activities is to offer a fun warm up with students at the beginning of each class. It acts as an ice breaker and helps get students’ brains in gear for class and it generally ties into the lesson or has a purpose beyond the obvious.
There are different creativity boosters: some invite students to quiet and focus their minds, see ‘5 Senses‘, some invite students to discover feelings of empathy, see ‘An Ode to the Left Hand‘, some invite students to get silly and quiet their inner critics, see ‘Yes! Let’s.
Creativity Boosters are useful for setting the tone for a fun and engaging lesson. They can be used as a warm up in either highly visual creative courses (ex: design and/or visual arts-focused classes) or non-visual courses that require creative problem solving (ex: science, business management and social sciences).
For the ’16 Squares’ Creativity Booster, there is no preparation required other than having the instructions to guide students through the activity (see below), as well as asking students to have a pen or pencil and piece of paper (letter-sized / A4) ready. One stopwatch is also required.
This activity encourages students to embrace ‘quantity’ over ‘quality’, silence their inner critics and remove the need for perfectionism in creative work, help students think visually (even in non-visual subjects) and showcase the concept that ‘constraint breeds creativity’.
This activity can be used to help any students who are trying to solve a problem. This might be a problem more traditionally solved through visual means (art or design), or a problem that would benefit from sketching ideas down on paper, however abstract this may be. This activity is like a workout for students’ creative brains; actively pushing students to come up with lots of new ideas in rapid succession. This activity might not be easy, but ‘running out of ideas’ is usually an illusion.
First ask students to take a letter-sized / A4 piece of paper and fold it twice one way and twice the other way (to end up with 16 squares). The goal is to generate 16 new ideas/drawings in 8 minutes (30 seconds x 16 squares).
Instruct students to begin in the first square in the top left hand corner of the paper. On your signal students may begin sketching to help visually solve their problem. After 30 seconds are up, notify students and ask them to move onto the next square. Their first sketch will be incomplete (this is expected). Instruct those students hesitant to leave their first sketch incomplete to move on. In the next square, students may sketch something similar to the first, modifying it and building on it, or sketch something completely different to help them solve their problem.
Continue this process until all 16 squares are filled.
By the end of the 8 minutes, students may or may not have a workable solution to their problem, but more often than not this exercise sparks creative insights that weren’t there before the 16 squares. End by reinforcing that sometimes prioritising ‘quantity’ over ‘quality’ is a strategic decision that can help overcome the equivalent to writers’ block.
Approximately 10 minutes.
No special technology is required beyond video conferencing software in a live, synchronous class. This activity works with either cameras turned on or cameras turned off.
Talk Paper Scissors podcast, Episode 058: Serious Fun. In this podcast episode, I explain the rationale behind the importance of having ‘Serious Fun’ in post-secondary education, including the incorporation of Creativity Boosters in my virtual classroom.
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