Creative Thinking Strategies

This section of Creativiteach is devoted to strategies intended to enhance creativity, primarily divergent-thinking strategies.  Think of it as a mini-reference handbook to some of the techniques that can be used to come up with many different ideas. If a technique is referenced in the blog and you aren’t sure what it means, this is the place to come for the basics.

Merriam-Webster defines divergent thinking as, “creative thinking that may follow many lines of thought and tends to generate new and original solutions to problems.” This definition makes clear one of the definitional problems: What is the relationship between creativity and divergent thinking? Some authors use the words interchangeably. Some (as above) use one to define the other. I’ve been guilty of the same muddying of the water in the title I used to define this section. Most of the strategies here are focused on divergent thinking–but their purpose is to enhance creativity. If creativity requires original ideas, we hope that learning to think about a topic in many different ways should help us. Just as roads diverge in the woods–yellow or otherwise, our thoughts must diverge from their usual paths in order to come up with creative ideas.

Divergent thinking is typically divided into four core skills: fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration. A number of techniques have been developed that seek to support and encourage divergent thinking. Some of these are introduced in the tabs above, along with brief sample lessons. As an example, here we’ll examine one model that teaches divergent thinking directly: the Talents Unlimited model.

The Talents Unlimited model was designed to teach children to understand and use the diverse talents that are necessary to success in the real world. Each talent is explained in student-friendly terms, and lessons are planned to use a variety of talents in each content area. Divergent thinking strategies are taught as the Productive Thinking Talent. It is described as follows.

1. Think of many ideas (fluency).

2. Think of varied ideas (flexibility).

3. Think of unusual ideas (originality).

4. Add to their ideas to make them better (elaboration).

For additional information and sample lessons, see the link above and then click on the Full Text option. The materials are a bit dated, but the notion of clearly explaining to students the types of thinking in which we hope they will enage is an important one. Here’s an example of a lesson you could use after having taught students about productive (divergent) thinking.

Sample Lesson: Flexible Thinking in Social Studies, Science and/or Technology Education (Starko, 2010)

Read a biography of George Washington Carver. Look for examples of fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. Think about a substance that might be plentiful but not useful in your community—perhaps kudzu or plastic waste from a local business. Think flexibly about how the substance might be used productively. You might point out that the designers in Ikea have produced best selling lighting and decorative features from what had formerly been industrial waste.

Other pages in this section include more detail on other creative thinking strategies. Here are some of the options you may want to explore:

Attribute Listing/Morphological Synthesis


Metaphors and Analogies

Random Input



Schlichter, C., Palmer, W. R., & Palmer, R. (1993). Thinking smart: A primer of the Talents Unlimited model. MansfieldCenter, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Starko, A. J. (2010). Creativity in the classroom: Schools of curious delight, 4th Ed. Routledge: New York.

6 thoughts on “Creative Thinking Strategies

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