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Warming Up to Creativity: Starting Points
by Hall Houston

My new book, The Creative Classroom, has many ideas for improving language learners’ creative skills. In this article, I will suggest some activities you can use to get students thinking about a topic creatively. The activities here are all short and can be used as warmers. They are not intended to be complete lessons, but just brief ways to introduce a topic.

You will need to choose a topic for students to discuss. This can be something from your coursebook or you can pick something you think students would find interesting. These activities work best with intermediate and advanced level students.

If you like the activities I have included here, you might want to find a copy of my book, The Creative Classroom, published by Lynx Publishing (

Activity #1 - Special Guest

  • Write your topic on the board. Ask students to write a few questions they might ask a stranger about the topic. Then, tell one student to go outside and find a person who would be willing to sit in your classroom for about 5 minutes. Invite the stranger in, and have the person sit in front of the class. Encourage students to ask their questions.

Activity #2 - Line Up

  • Line students up into 2 rows, facing each other. Make sure everyone has a partner. Tell them you want each pair to take turns calling out words related to the topic. After 2 minutes, have one line move down, and the student on the end will go around to the other side of the line. Now everyone has a new partner. This time have them say short phrases related to the topic. After 2 minutes, have them move again, and tell them to ask (but not answer) questions related to the topic. When two minutes have passed, move the line again, and tell them to exchange facts related to the topic. For the last turn, have them say their opinions. (Note: If you have an odd number of students, you have two choices: join the activity yourself, or ask one student to police the activity and call out each time 2 minutes are up.)

Activity #3 - Role Play

  • Call on students to give you an abstract noun, a concrete noun, a verb, and an adjective, all having some relationship to the topic. Write these up on the board. Put students into pairs and have them role play a situation that relates to your topic, using all 4 words on the board. After 5 minutes, put every pair together with another pair to make groups of 4. They take turn performing their role plays for each other. When they are finished, they vote on who has the best role play, and send that pair up to the front to perform for the class. (Note: If you have a monolingual class, you can ask them to perform the role play in their native language the first time.)

Activity #4 - Room with a View

  • Take your students to the window of your classroom. Tell the class to choose a person outside and describe him or her briefly (you probably don’t want them to stare). Now, everyone sits down and writes a paragraph about the topic from the person’s perspective. After 5 minutes, tell students to put their pens down. Call on a few students to read out their paragraphs. (Note: If there is no window in your classroom, consider leading students to another window in the school or even outside. If this is too troublesome, you can ask students to look through their textbook for a person to write about.)

Activity #5 - Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles

  • Before class, put up four large blank sheets of papers in four corners of your classroom. Each poster should have one of these words on it: Activist, Pragmatist, Reflector, Theorist. Explain to your students Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles. (There are four learning styles. An Activist learns by doing things. A Pragmatist dislikes abstract ideas and prefers to see how something can be used in the real world. A Reflector just wants to watch and think about what he is observing. A Theorist prefers to learn by absorbing theories, facts, and concepts.) Ask students to stand up and go to the poster that has their favorite learning style. Tell them to write a few ideas related to your topic (not about the learning style). Then put them in groups of 3 or 4. Each group should be made up of students with different learning styles. Have the groups exchange their ideas and thoughts about the topic, as well as how they would like to learn about the topic.

Activity #6 - Inspiration Cards

  • Put students into four groups. Give each group 13 index cards. Assign each group a phrase structure, such as VERB-ARTICLE-NOUN or NOUN-VERB. Tell groups to write a different phrase on each card, using the structure you gave them. Emphasize that the phrases can be wild, surreal or nonsensical (IGNORE THE SUN, DOG SMILE). Collect the cards. Tell the class your topic. Invite a student to come to the front of the class, choose a card at random, and read it out. The rest of the class must find some connection between the phrase and your topic.


Hall Houston has taught EFL for over a decade in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is currently a full-time English Instructor at Kainan University in Luzhu, Taiwan. His first book, The Creative Classroom, was published in 2007. His second book, Provoking Thought, was published in 2009.His professional interests include task-based teaching, group dynamics, discourse analysis, creativity and critical thinking.

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