It’s the Little Things

tinymonkeySometimes little things are really interesting. No, I’m not talking about the latest diamond commercial or kitten video (though I’d take the kitten any day). Sometimes small studies about small changes in teaching can bring thought-provoking ideas. Here’s one.

A 2014 study in the Early Childhood Education Journal, researchers Angela Webb and Audrey Rule describe a study in which small changes in the way lessons were introduced improved both creativity and science learning in a class of second grade students. For sixteen weeks, the research alternated science lesson introductions in two-week intervals. For two weeks lessons had brief and positive introductions (the “standard” lessons), then the next two weeks’ lessons had enhanced lesson introductions, cuing students to think flexibly and use creativity strategies. After each science lesson students did transformational drawings, changing an abstract shape into a picture representing content in the science lesson. A standard lesson introduction might be”

Good morning girls and boys! Today we will think back to what we read and we will fill out our figural transformations. Remember to try to draw something in every box and also make a title for your drawing in your best handwriting. (p. 353)

In contrast, the enhanced introduction might begin like this.

Put on your creative thinking caps! We are going to complete another fun figural transformation activity in which you can show your creative ideas! I am so excited! How can you _____ [referring to the creative skill being highlighted by this particular lesson…]? How could you change this shape (pointing to one of the figures to be transformed)? What creative skills will you use? Look at the lightning shape. I wonder how I could make it look like something else from the story and not the first thing it looks like. It’s okay to play with ideas or change your mind. Imagine a few different ideas for what you might change the shape to and choose the most unusual. Don’t give up! Remember, some of the best thinkers problem-solve. Don’t be afraid to do something really different. … What from the story could you make this shape into? If you aren’t sure exactly what you are going to make, go ahead and make a start and be confident that you will get ideas. (pp. 352-3)

Now, clearly the second introduction is much longer, but it represents just a small change, when taken in the context of the whole lesson. And just that, at least in this small study, made a difference.

You might want to experiment with small changes in your own lessons. If just a few words of encouragement can help students learn and support their creativity at the same time, why not give it a try? If you do, please share. One small study after another is the way we learn.


Webb, A. N. & Rule, A. C. (2014). Effects of teacher lesson introduction on second graders’ creativity in a science/literacy integrated unit on health and nutrition. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42, 351–360. DOI 10.1007/s10643-013-0615-4

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