Toys in School

Today I wanted to share two of my favorite pocket-sized toys. They are good for language arts (and other) lessons, for carrying on airplanes, for rainy-day entertainment on camping trips, and a host of other occasions. And they are all about thinking creatively. So much creativity in such a small space! And the best part is, you can easily use these fine products, or you can use their ideas to make your own version.

Each of these toys is associated with the creativity strategy of random input (see link under the Teaching Creative Thinking tab). Random input is exactly what it sounds like—a strategy for pushing our thinking in new directions by bringing in new, and apparently unrelated, ideas. Random input works best when the random ideas are concrete nouns—something you can see and feel. You can practice creative thinking by pulling random words out of the dictionary—something I’ve done more than once in the minutes before lunch—or by using one of these options.

The first pocket-sized wonder is Story Cubes. Story Cubes, described on the box as a “pocket-sized story generator,” is a set of 9 cubes (dice) with pictures on each surface. They can be used in a variety of ways. Roll all the cubes at once and create a story that links them together. Divide the cubes up among several players, then take turns rolling and adding to the story based on the results. The images are concrete enough to be understood by young children and varied enough to be fun for adults. The cubes could be used by individuals, small groups, or even the whole class. And, of course, Story Cubes can be used for more than writing stories. Imagine using them in art class. They could be useful for primary children creating drawings that incorporate several images or older students combining elements into Picasso-like fantasy landscapes.

Being a resourceful teacher, you can always make your own story cubes! Find some blank dice or salvage dice from games already missing pieces and cover the numbers with permanent paper “dots.” Or use one of the many blank cube templates online like CubeTemplate from Create as many dice as you want, using words or pictures, and start rolling.

The second creative pocket-toy is Think-ets from Think-a-lot Toys. The original Think-ets looks like an Altoids tin and is filled with tiny trinkets designed to spur creative thinking. Like Story Cubes, they are perfect for generating story ideas in individual or team games, or for playing any of the other games that are suggested in the directions. When I first saw Think-ets I was intrigued with their classroom potential but was also quite sure that a small container of treasures would not have lasted long in any of my classrooms before the contents vanished into little pockets. That is why I was so excited to see there is a Think-ets Teachers’ Edition, with more treasures, and ideas for classroom use.

Of course, you can create your own collection of trinkets that will serve the same function. You could also challenge students to create their own collection. Find all your Altoid-eating friends and have them save their tins until you have a class-sized set. Challenge students to fill their tins with interesting trinkets, and use them to spur writing activities, art activities, or problem solving in any dimension using random input. I’d love to hear about the results.

2 thoughts on “Toys in School

  1. The board game “You’ve Been Sentenced” and the card game “Once Upon A Time” are in a similar category in that they provide ingredients to create something. I imagined that the board game “You’ve Been Sentenced” could be adapted really well for a second language class. The kids could make their own cards, using different conjugations and verbs, different knows and pronouns, different prepositions and different pronouns/nouns. Sometimes when learning another language, everything seems nonsensical anyway, and this is an activity that makes sense out of the nonsensical anyway.


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