Stuck in a lift: A starter/plenary activity for creative thinking

Cognitive flexibility

Today’s post is inspired by an article in July/August’s (2012) Scientific American Mind (“Your creative brain at work” by Evangelia G. Chrysikou, page 25), where the author discusses the ways in which we might be able to go about boosting our creativity, assuming we all have the capacity to do so.

I think creative thinking, and students being confident in their ability to do so, is an important skill to practise and refine to support learning in A Level Psychology. In my experience, students who are innovative in their approach to AO2, and their approach to study more generally, are often highly successful in this subject and better prepared for later study. Those that make more creative links and associations between concepts are also more likely to retain their learning than those who study at a more superficial level.

Boosting creativity

The article refers to a range of ways of boosting creativity, from mind mapping to approaching tasks in unconventional ways. The idea being to remove some of the constraints we usually place on our approach to thinking and problem solving.

Thinking skills in the classroom

A commonly used “thinking skills” activity, often used as a starter to increase cognitive flexibility, is one where students have to find connections between 2 seemingly randomly paired objects (e.g. six degrees of separation).

… in the A Level Psychology classroom

The idea that follows is a twist on this type of activity for use as a starter or plenary (or indeed at any point in a lesson) that has the potential to give students an opportunity to work their metaphorical creative muscles and generate some innovative points for discussion and analysis. Asking students to justify their decisions and elaborate verbally will also help with written work so make sure you make the link between verbal elaboration and written elaboration explicit.

2 Psychologists stuck in a lift…

Ask students to imagine there are 2 well known people stuck in a broken down lift. They have to wait for an engineer to fix the lift so they might as well talk to each other while they wait.  You could start with 2 celebs or well-known people outside of Psychology to introduce the activity then present randomly coupled, or otherwise, pairs of Psychologists.

You could use the following prompt questions:

  1. How would they briefly introduce themselves and their key ideas?
  2. What might they bond over…? What do they have in common?
  3. How might they challenge each other…? Where might they have a difference of opinion?

Approaching the activity

You could randomly pair Psychologists (to ensure there is no hidden agenda to constrain students thinking and end up in teacher coaching towards a right or desired answer) if you want to make this an exercise in creative thinking as its primary goal.

If you want to teach a concept through the activity you could contrive some pairings (e.g. Beck and Freud could make a good pair to help students analyse approaches to explaining abnormality – AQA A Unit 2 – particularly as they might end up having the pair trying to “treat” each other for lift based anxiety!).

Validating and crediting independent study

This activity also allows students who are engaging in their own independent study, through wider reading or extension tasks provided, to demonstrate their learning. If their independent study is useful and productive they should be able to make links, based on their wider knowledge or insight, which their peers cannot. Students consistently report that they know they should read around a subject but often feel that this goes unnoticed which, understandably, reduces their motivation to do this type of independent study when their time is already stretched.


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