Many of the creativity exercises listed here I developed.  Others come from some of my favorite books including The Creativity Challenge, Thinkertoys, and Zig Zag. Many involve team work and elements of creativity in addition to the category in which they are listed.


The activities listed here are designed to promote a shift in perspective, create a sense of curiosity, and foster an ability to conceptualize new possibilities.
  • Observe Children at a Daycare Center:  Note the way they play with toys and other objects and one another.
  • 20 Minutes of Something Different:  Each week students spend 20 minutes engaging in an activity they've not engaged in before or haven't done in 10 years or more.
  • Watch the Seinfeld Episode, "Opposite George": George Costanza tries doing the opposite of what his instincts tell him to do.
  • School is Cancelled:  Divide students into two groups.  One group receives written instructions that school has been cancelled on account of snow. The other group receives instructions that they are 7 years old and school has been cancelled on account of snow.  Both groups are asked to detail how they'd spend the day. Compare responses.
  • Take a Silent Fresh-Eyes Walk Around Campus: Students embark across campus on a silent individual pursuit to document things they've never noticed before.  This is most effective with upperclassmen and using cell phones for photographic documentation.
  • Alien 5: Students host an extraterrestrial exchange student. They can embark on 5 different experiences or events in an effort to show the alien what life on Earth is about.
  • Invite an ethnographic researcher to class: No one else sees the world as they do and they have great stories!
  • Behavioral Exchange: When class size is small, at the start of each class put all students names in a hat and have each student choose a name.  At the end of class they have to write an anonymous note to the classmate about a way in which the peer made them think differently or provided inspiration.  The instructor collects the papers and passes them out before students leave class. Great when conducted over an entire term.
  • Look at Things Intently: Meet in an unusual place.  Take close-up pictures of objects and have students create a slide show with 3-5. Have classmates comment on the aspects of the photographs they find interesting and guess what the objects might be used for.
  • Novelty Glasses: Bring in an assortment of novelty glasses for students to wear in order to see the world differently and be seen differently.
  • Simultaneous Bouncing Balls:  Use one lightweight ball for tossing (like a beach ball) and one heavier ball for kicking (like a soccer ball). Stand students in a circle to pass the balls around.  As they kick, they must make an animal sound (don't repeat sounds). As they volley or toss, they must say a number. Great as a failure exercise, too.  Virtually impossible!
  • Blackout Poem: Bring an essay or news/magazine article to class.  Blackout words to reveal a different story or message.

These activities are designed to help student move past their first ideas into recognition of the wild, unusual, fabulously creative solutions and to fuse discordant concepts to create new possibilities.

  • Playing with Non-Toys: Have students bring a toy and a non-toy object to class.  Play with the non-toy and implement the toy in a non-toy fashion.
  • 100 Uses: Come up with 100 uses for a brick or a binder clip.
  • Watch The Little Mermaid Treasure Trove Scene:  Ariel creates fanciful ideas for the ways in which common objects are used.
  • Objects on the Moon: Students bring in 2 common objects. Working in groups of 4 or 5, they first choose a setting (like the moon, a deserted island, a snowy tundra, an abandoned hospital), then decide how they could best combine their objects to create something new and of value in their given setting. Finally, students create a story around their setting and new creation. 
  • 1st Line Stories: Instructor brings several novels to class with a chapter opening sentence highlighted (find unusual lines). Students sit in a circle, one selects a book, and reads the line. 1st time around, each student takes a turn generating the next line in a developing story until they come full-circle to the first student. 2nd time around, a student chooses another book, reads the opening line, and rolls a ball to the student they select to create the next line, and so on. 3rd, students break down into smaller groups (of 4 or 5) and engage in story development in a round. When they have constructed a story, the professor instructs them to create a silent play, acting out the story.  Each group presents and other groups guess what the story involves.
  • Flower Children: Based on the concept of T-shaped people, this activity uses a coloring book flower to help students recognize ways in which their base of expertise (the pistil and stem with leaves serving as subdomains) and their skills, hobbies, and other funds of knowledge (designated by the petals) can converge. Once students have completed their flower, I ask them to exchange flowers with another student and converge 2 or more petals with the stem to create a new area of inquiry or even job potential. Blog post on this activity.
  • Inside the Machine:  Students imagine they are trapped inside some physical system (like an A/C unit, a car engine, a cell phone) and draw and describe what they see, feel, and hear.
  • Idea Mobiles: Create a mindmap mobile or string art linking every association they have for a certain concept (like motherhood, the Dark Ages, artificial intelligence). Software such as mindomo is ideal for this.  I love this exercise when I want students to truly appreciate how complex a system or concept truly is.
  • Prison Orientation: Students create an orientation to prison (like their orientation to college).
  • 30 Circles: Distribute a 30 circles template and tell students to turn the circles into as many different recognizable objects as they can in 3 minutes. Compare results for total number and originality.
  • Radical Objects: Generate a list of common household objects.  Have groups of students select different objects and consider the most radical changes they could make to the objects while retaining their function.
  • Pop Rocks: Although the candy has been around seemingly forever, many of today's college students have never had them. Distribute packs to the class and follow these  directions.
  • IdeaJab: This card games mixes and matches demographics to business platforms (think motorcycle gangs, teens who like knitting and drone delivery system or app).
  • Shipwrecked: Students are asked to bring to class a unique object that fits in their hand. They should be told that if any items are the same, each one will be forfeited. Teams of 4 or 5 are informed they have been stranded on a deserted island with only the items they have brought with them.  They must combine at least two objects (the shape, size, and materials of which can be modified) to derive innovations that will help them survive on the island.  They must develop 20 such innovations and select their best one to name and share in pictorial form with the class.


​The activities listed here are intended to desensitize students to failure and the feelings associated with vulnerability and risk-taking.
  • Crappy Picture Contest: Provide students with colored pencils and have them spend 20 minutes drawing the best picture they can of anything they want. Have students spread out and keep their drawings to themselves, as much as possible.  Provide enough paper that they may start over if they mess up.  At the end of the 20 minutes have them tear up their pictures and throw them away without sharing.  Then give them 1 minute to draw the crappiest picture they can (no blank pictures allowed). Do NOT put their names on the paper. When they are done, hang them on the wall, distribute 3 star stickers to each student and have them vote for the crappiest picture (they can distribute the stars across pictures or use them all on 1 picture). 
  • Blind Barrel of Monkeys:  Students in groups of 4-6 sit in a circle on the floor.  They open their barrel of monkeys and are instructed to play as directed, taking turns but with the monkey grabber's eyes closed and their hand guided by the student to their right. Blog post on this activity.
  • Scarlet Letters: Each student is given a piece of construction paper with a hole at each end, a marker, and a piece of string.  The student writes a point of vulnerability (like, I worry about not appearing smart in class, I feel uncomfortable being the only introvert in my family of extroverts) on the paper and hangs it from around their neck.  They are not asked to share it; only to wear it and to externalize their point of vulnerability.
  • ​Teach in 5: Students are asked to consider a skill they do well.  They are then instructed that will have to get up in front of the class and in 5 minutes or less teach it to a classmate in a non-traditional fashion and without words.  Students should be given this assignment in advance in the event they need props.


​The activities listed here are intended to provide a deep exploration of a topic and are best approached from an interdisciplinary perspective even if taught in a single-focus course.
Create a New Society: Students watch the first half of the TV show The Last Man on Earth (Alive in Tucson).  They are told that the rest of the world has died due to a virus and the only 1,000 people left have congregated in their college's town.  All survivors speak English, all are able-bodied, and all are between the ages of 13 and 65.  They represent the US population. Animals have survived in a similar proportion.  As is the case on the TV show, there are no operable utilities or internet.  Have the class generate a list of societal functions they feel must be considered (the list usually includes education, safety, family, health care). Students rank order their preferences and are assigned to groups of approximately 5 based on their rankings. Once the groups form, they must completely flesh out their concept using a concept map similar to those generated on mindomo.  They need to consider their area from perspectives within the class subject as well as other disciplines.  I have my students all interview three faculty members from different departments about how their discipline plays a role in the facet of society on which students are working.  

Once detailed maps are created, each group must decide which areas to prioritize and research their topics learning from other cultures and historical data.  I ask them to consider their personal values before undertaking the task of creating the new society in an effort to get them to think about the ramifications of their plans. They must develop 1, 5, and 10 year plans for the new society.  It is often interesting how challenging students find it to think beyond their current situation. 
Create Synthetic Humans: Students watch the first episode of the TV show Humans. They are tasked to consider current societal woes they would like to address.  Ideas are generated and students rank-order their personal priorities and interests from the list.  Groups of 5 are formed based on preferences.   Groups are asked to research their societal challenge from multiple perspectives and to consider means of rectifying the problem.  I usually require a short paper detailing these findings.  Then student groups are told they can create 100,000 of the same model of synthetic human to send out to address the problem. They must develop all aspects of the synthetic human (how will the appearance of the "synth" impact its ability to address the challenge, how intelligent must it be, how old, how capable of learning, how and where will they be distributed, etc.).  They should detail the ways in which they will deploy their synths to address or rectify the societal woe.  They should also consider what will happen to their synthetic humans once the intervention is over.

More advanced students can be tasked to develop a research plan and consider outcome measures to assess success in addressing their societal challenge.  

This assignment is also great to explore issues surrounding ethics, artificial intelligence, technology, philosophy, and cognitive science.