Walking for Creativity

walkingfeetI spend too much time sitting. Sound familiar? Between teaching online classes, blogging, and keeping in touch with family and friends, I spend a lot of time at the computer. I know that isn’t good for my health, but now I learn it may not be good for my creativity either.

A recent set of studies at Stanford University* found that walking increased divergent thinking, both while actually in motion and shortly after stopping. That is, people who were walking came up with more ideas about how to use a common object than people who were seated. Walking did not help—and might even have hurt—a problem solving task in which there was one correct answer.

Getting up and moving can be helpful in generating ideas no matter where you are. In this research, walking on a treadmill was helpful, and walking outside was even better. In particular, walking outside was increased students’ creation of original and interesting analogies.

So what does that mean—other than when I’m stuck for a new idea for blogging I should get up out of my chair? It occurs to me that if we want students to develop flexible thinking and novel ideas, we are setting up schools in the worst possible way. In schools students sit. And sit. And sit. There are a lot of reasons to get students up and moving, but here’s one more. If we want to best support students’ creative thinking, we need to let them move.

kidswalkingHow about a “walk and talk” class? Imagine students walking with a partner, spending 10 minutes walking around the track or exterior of the school building generating ideas for whatever project is at hand—characters for a short story, solutions to a school problem, or potential variations on a science experiment. Or imagine role playing two historic figures walking together (Roosevelt and Churchill? Lincoln and Lee?), then comparing conversations. If your room is big enough, you could even try having students walk and talk around the outside of the room.

Of course, keeping students focused during “walk and talk” will be a challenge, particularly as a first experience. But keep the time short, and consider having one partner taking notes during the walk. Help students understand the “why” of the experience as a tool they can use in many aspects of their lives. As the school year wanes (along with some students’ enthusiasm), it may be the perfect time to try something new to get those creative muscles stretching. So get up, move, and think more creatively!


*Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014, April 21). Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The PositiveEffect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036577

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