SCAMPER: Questions to Ponder

(Eberle, 1977, 1996)

The SCAMPER acronym was developed from a series of questions designed to help spur fluency and flexibility. You might think of it was a tool to use when your brain has stopped storming—you are trying to think of many ideas but are just stuck. In that case, try asking the SCAMPER questions.

S stands for Substitute. It suggests asking questions such as “What could I use instead?” or “What other ingredients, materials, or components could I use?”

C stands for Combine. It asks, “How can I combine parts or ideas? Are there two things I could blend rather than come up with something new?” Combinations considered can range from inventions to combining literary characters into imagined dialogue.

A stands for Adapt. It suggests questions such as “What else is like this?” or “Could we change or imitate something else?” In adapting, we change something known to solve the problem. Many innovations successful science experiments are adaptations of things that have gone before.

M can have several meanings. It can stand for Modify. Similar to Adapt, in modifying we ask, “Could we change a current idea, practice, or product slightly and be successful?”  M can also stand for Magnify or Minify. Magnifying allows us to ask, “How could I make it bigger, stronger, more exaggerated, or more frequent?”  To minify is, of course, just the opposite. To go in this direction, we ask, “How can I make it smaller, more compact, lighter, or less frequent?”

P stands for Put to other uses. It suggests that we ask, “How can I use this in a new way?” The switch from advertising Kleenex as a makeup remover to billing it as a paper handkerchief was a brilliant and profitable use of this strategy. A good friend recently used press-and-seal plastic wrap to keep her cast dry in the shower. Now her doctor recommends that to all her patients!

E is for Eliminate. It leads us to ask, “What can be omitted or eliminated? Are all the parts necessary? Is it necessary to solve this problem at all?”  In some schools, efforts to reduce cafeteria noise were eliminated when would-be problem solvers determined that as long as students can hear emergency signals over the cafeteria noise, it may be good for students to talk in the cafeteria, or that the energy spent trying to keep them from doing so could more profitably be spent elsewhere.

Finally, R stands for Rearrange or Reverse. It suggests questions such as “Could I use a different sequence? Could I interchange parts? Could I do the opposite? What would happen if I turned it upside down, backward, or inside out?” One of my students used the principle of reversing to reduce the frustration she experienced in trying to get catsup and salad dressings out of the bottles. She built a rack for her refrigerator door that holds all the bottles upside down. When she removes them from the refrigerator, they are ready to pour. The educational notion of “flipping a classroom” is a good example of reversing–class time is used for practice while the “input” of content happens at home.

Eberle, R. F. (1977). SCAMPER. Buffalo, NY: DOK.

Eberle, R. F. (1996). SCAMPER [Reissue]. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

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