CHAPTER 1 - An Introduction to Creative Thinking Tools


Very often when pupils are asked to be creative, they worry that their ideas are not  “creative” enough. In fact, there is no absolute standard to judge whether an idea is creative or not. What matters most is whether pupils have tried to exercise their imagination to think of something that is unusual to them.

To guide pupils to think creatively, teachers should teach them some useful methods to form new ideas. The learning and teaching activities in this resource package have been designed with reference to some creative thinking tools. This chapter aims at introducing the basic principles of these tools. They can be flexibly incorporated into many classroom activities to guide pupils to generate fresh ideas.

1.1     Brainstorming

Ch. 2.2, 2.4 & 2.5

Building on pupils’ knowledge and experience

In many cases, creative ideas are built upon the most common knowledge or suggestions. Therefore, it is always useful to elicit what pupils already know about a topic before asking them to think of something new.

To begin with, teachers could conduct a group thinking activity called brainstorming (Osborn, 1953). The teacher acts as a facilitator to encourage pupils to voice any ideas related to a topic and jot them down quickly to make them visible to everyone in the group. Pupils may get the ideas from their previous knowledge of the topic and experience. They can also form new ideas based on what others have said. The teacher should ensure that the activity is conducted in a relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere and that all pupils are staying on-task.

 “Rules” of brainstorming

The duration and group size of a brainstorming session are flexible. However, participants should bear in mind a few do’s and don’ts to make sure the activity is carried out effectively:

Do’s Don’ts
Do allow your imagination to run wild.
  • Wild thoughts that appear to be irrelevant or impossible could be stepping stones to creative and practical ideas!
Do not criticise or object to people’s opinions.
  • This will discourage people from giving more ideas.
Do think of as many ideas as you can.
  • A large number of ideas are more likely to yield a good idea.
Do not set aside the ideas that are mentioned.
  • Early ideas serve to stimulate further thoughts. Existing ideas can be combined and improved to form some better ideas.

Adapted from Starko, A. J. (2005). Creativity in the Classroom:
Schools of Curious Delight
. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


Topic: Summer

hot and wet
June to August
summer holiday


summer courses
Ocean Park
Food Expo
cold drinks

summer holiday homework

Brainstorming is like taking out everything from your wardrobe (the brain) to
have a showcase of clothes and accessories (what you know about the topic).

A variation: brainwriting

Some pupils may be too shy to speak up. They find it very stressful to voice their opinions in front of a group as they worry that their ideas will be neglected or rejected. As a result, it is likely that the more out-spoken pupils will dominate the brainstorming session.

To prevent this from happening, the teacher may change the format of brainstorming to engage more pupils. Rather than expressing their thoughts aloud, pupils can write them down on a sheet of paper. The sheet is then passed on to the next pupil, who may refer to the ideas on the sheet for inspiration and come up with some more ideas. This activity is known as brainwriting (Rohrbach, 1969). It allows even the least confident pupils to contribute their ideas comfortably. It is also an efficient method of generating ideas as more participants are making suggestions at the same time.

Close 1.1


1.2     Mind Mapping

Ch. 2.2

Concentrating pupils’ thoughts by providing sub-topics

When we ask pupils to brainstorm on a topic, they may have a lot to say if they happen to know the topic very well. Then the brainstorming session will end up with a blackboard full of ideas on the same topic, although not yet arranged in any clear order. Pupils may then find it difficult to locate some useful ideas later on.

On the other hand, if pupils do not know the topic well enough, they will be stuck and will not even know where to start thinking about the topic.

In both cases, the teacher can make use of a mind map (Buzan, 1994) which provides pupils with sub-topics to guide them to organise their thoughts or to help them narrow down their scope of thinking so that they know what aspects they should focus on when thinking.
A mind map is a non-linear diagram with one focused topic put at the centre. Further details of sub-topics extend on branches from the centre. Apart from helping pupils visualise their ideas, a mind map also allows them to classify and prioritise ideas. It is particularly useful for planning and organising information.

As in brainstorming, there should be no criticism. Pupils are encouraged to make as many suggestions as they can.


Mind mapping is like categorising many pieces of clothing (ideas/ what you know about the topic) into different drawers (sub-topics).

Close 1.2


1.3     Morphological Matrix

Ch. 2.3 & 2.6

Combining ideas to explore possibilities

Brainstorming elicits from pupils what they already know about a topic. Mind mapping helps them narrow down their scope of thinking and focus on the most relevant sub-topics. Based on what they have brainstormed, pupils should be further encouraged to think of something new and to explore more possibilities. How can we help pupils create unusual ideas based on what they know?
The morphological matrix is a tool that can help. Introduced by astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky (1969), this technique adopts the mathematical skill of graph-reading. To construct a morphological matrix, first, state clearly the topic (subject), then identify all important sub-topics (characteristics) and list them on the first row of a table in different columns. Apply the technique of mind mapping to write down as many ideas as possible in each column. When all columns have been filled, mix and match ideas across the columns randomly to form new combinations.

The morphological matrix facilitates combination of characteristics or qualities of a specific topic (subject) and helps explore a wide range of possibilities. It is particularly useful for generating ideas for improvement and variation in products and processes. It can also be applied in classroom situations to help pupils create unusual ideas by putting together different characteristics creatively.

The idea of the morphological matrix is like mixing and matching
clothes (combining ideas) to design a new outfit  (a new suggestion).


Topic/Subject: Organising a summer activity



Skills to learn







P1-P3 pupils





P4-P6 pupils



computer skills


all pupils



first aid skills

country park











parents and pupils

You may use any four-digit number to select a random combination of items. Find out the item to which each digit corresponds and combine the items to form meaningful phrases.


Four-digit number Combination


a camp for learning a language in a country park for parents and pupils


a cooking workshop on the Internet for teachers

This morphological matrix can generate as many as 1,296 combinations! You may create a bigger morphological matrix by adding more rows and columns.

Close 1.3


1.4     S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Techniques

Ch. 2.1-2.4

Thinking outside the box

Combining characteristics of a subject is just one way to form new ideas. Pupils can let their thoughts run wild and think outside the box using the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. techniques (Eberle, 1971).

 “S.C.A.M.P.E.R.” is an acronym for a list of words that represent a series of idea-generating methods. The S.C.A.M.P.E.R. techniques were developed to stimulate people to cope with a problem from new perspectives. They can be applied to many creative classroom activities such as story-writing, creative reading of a text, or simply stimulating pupils to visualise a creative image in their minds. Teachers could guide pupils with questions to use some of the techniques to form new ideas.

We can use the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. techniques to treat a piece of clothing differently, e.g. wearing a bow tie
on the head (put to other uses), wearing an oversized hat (magnify), cutting the sleeves of a T-shirt (eliminate).

The S.C.A.M.P.E.R. techniques:

Adapted from Eberle, B. (1971). SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development. New York: Dok Pub.

Close 1.4


1.5     Value Grid

Ch. 2.4

Evaluating the pros and cons of ideas for a better solution

The above creative thinking tools help us generate plenty of new, unusual ideas. However, not all ideas are practical and appropriate. We can use the value grid (Pil and Holweg, 2006) to evaluate whether the ideas are suitable and feasible based on a list of values (qualities) we are looking for in an ideal solution to our problem.

The value grid takes the form of a table. It helps us organise information and make comparisons between suggestions by looking at the pros and cons of each. It facilitates logical decision-making.

Using the value grid is like judging whether some outfits (ideas) are well-designed or not (suitable for the purpose).
We base our judgment on some criteria (values), depending on the purpose of designing the outfits.


Close 1.5


1.6     R.A.F.T. Strategy

Ch. 2.4-2.6

Thinking from a new angle

The techniques mentioned in the previous parts mainly require pupils to think from their own point of view. If pupils try to step into someone else’s shoes and think from a new angle, they will be able to understand a topic more deeply and open up many more new opportunities.

The R.A.F.T. strategy (Santa, 1988) engages pupils in creative writing activities by requiring them to consider four important elements of every piece of writing.  “R.A.F.T.” is an acronym for  “role”,  “audience”,  “format” and  “topic”.

Pupils should take on the role of someone (or something) other than that of themselves. From a new perspective, they think about how they feel about or react to a situation. They should write to a specific audience taking into consideration their background, knowledge, feelings and concerns as well as their relationships with the writer. The writing can be in different formats and about a variety of topics.
Using the R.A.F.T. strategy, pupils approach their writing in an original way and produce a creative response using their imagination.

Using the R.A.F.T. strategy is like looking into different mirrors (taking on
different roles and thinking from new angles). You will see a brand new image.

The R.A.F.T. strategy:


Guiding questions




Who are you as the writer?
What role do you take on?

A child
A pet
An insect
An old toy
The Headmaster



Who will be reading your writing?
Are you writing to a specific person/organisation?

A group of students
A friend
Readers of a newspaper
A charity
Your favourite singer



What form does your writing take?
What is the best way to present your writing?

A diary
A poem
A letter to the editor
A brochure
A report
A comic strip



What is the subject of your writing?
What is the point of your writing?

Topics related to a reading text
Current issues and hot topics
Topics of personal interest
Feelings related to an experience

Topics in response to an inspiring question


Even with the same topic, pupils could produce different pieces of writing by taking on different roles and writing to a different audience in a different format. Teachers could make use of the R.A.F.T. strategy to cater for learner diversity by assigning different tasks to pupils of various abilities.

In the example below, on the same topic about throwing away old toys, the less able pupils could be assigned to take on the role of the toys to write a letter to their master to share their feelings, while the more capable pupils could put themselves in the boy’s shoes to write a letter to a charity about donating the old toys.

Situation:      David’s family is moving to a new house soon. His mom has asked him to throw away some old toys.

Close 1.6