How to Encourage Divergent Thinking

elem-school-craftsDo the students in your elementary classroom ever attempt to change the subject during a lesson? Going off topic may put a damper on the lesson plan for that day, but allowing a student to steer a discussion in a different direction can produce interesting results. Kids in grades K-5 often “think outside the box” and may even introduce solutions to a problem before any questions are asked. These types of free-flowing discussions are often referred to as divergent thinking, and kids in particular are usually very good at expressing thoughts in this way.

Divergent thinking can also be thought of as the method in which the mind generates ideas with the knowledge that there no wrong answers. This can be an important component of the elementary school experience because divergent thinking is a way for students to practice using their imaginations.

Imaginative thinking may translate to better problem-solving skills as students grow up and become adults. Consider adding some intentional divergent thinking time in your classroom. It may be as easy as gathering the students together for a group discussion or creating specific projects designed to encourage imaginative thought.

It’s probably no surprise that creativity and divergent thinking often go hand in hand. Take a look at these project-based ideas that can help promote both creativity and divergent thinking:

  1. Provide worksheets that ask students to “complete the picture.” This is probably one of the easiest divergent thinking exercises for elementary kids. Check Pinterest for worksheets that have a head already drawn but no face, or part of a nature scene with room for the kids to fill in spaces on the grass or in the trees. The possibilities are endless with this type of creative thinking/artistic project.
  2. Make Thinking Hats. Using different colored construction paper, show the kids how to make hats that represent different types of thinking by color. For example, a red hat might be a “feelings hat.” The thinking hats concept is something that is used by people of all ages to spark divergent thinking. Ask the kids to make 3 or 4 hats and allow them to choose whatever types of hats they want. It may be helpful to display a few examples so that everyone will understand the exercise. However, remember that there won’t be any wrong answers; any type of hat can be allowed and valued.
  3. Re-imagine ordinary objects. Ask students to find an item in the classroom and describe it as something completely different, using words and pictures. Have everyone share their results with the class and allow the discussions to meander to wherever the students decide.

Obviously, divergent thinking is not appropriate for all situations. Basic behavioral standards must still be observed by your students and there will be times when more traditional lessons are necessary. However, consider making an effort to allow for an increase in imaginative thinking opportunities during the school day. Students that are encouraged to use divergent thinking may be better prepared to meet more difficult academic standards as they advance through elementary school and beyond.