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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Creativity Exercises - Some creative games for the classroom

“Creativity is just connecting things.”  -Steve Jobs

We need to teach creativity in school and this is primarily a post about a creative exercise that can do just that.

(Update:  I posted my presentation about creativity, the exercises and how these games fit into it here.  This post goes into a lot more detail on the options for the games, but be sure to check out that newer post to see how I present it in class.)

Since most people who come here will be interested in the games and exercises I’ll start with them.  At the end I will include some thoughts about about the origin of the creativity game system that it's all based on for those interested in the design process.

First, here's a video that sums up the system and uses rules of one particular game as an example:

In all of these game activities below, some random words are selected and from them the players must come up with creative responses based on those words.  In terms of Steve Jobs’ quote, they will practice creativity by making connections between seemingly unrelated things.  For example, in the game Why Did the Chicken...?, two random nouns are used make a riddle and the players must write funny answers to the riddle.  In the haiku games, random nouns must be used in haikus.

If you are playing the game with a group of friends, one player will judge each round and pick a couple winning submissions.  In the classroom games below, the class can vote using a classroom response system like the ActivExpressions.

Traditional Games

Only one of these games is a product you would have to purchase.  The others can be played with just a pencil and some paper.  For use in class, students could play in groups of four to six.
  • Why Did the Chicken...? - This is the boxed version of the game system where players make creative, funny answers to riddles.  I wrote more about the game and have a short video here.
  • The Haiku Game - I made this game using letter cards for an old game that is no longer available.  You could play it with Scrabble tiles or any game that has letter cards.
  • Cartoon Chicken - This is by far my favorite of the creativity games.  Players make captions for two randomly paired drawings.
  • The Chicken Game System - This is Kory Heath’s page for the generic system.  It is a great read for any serious game designer.  From here you can learn to make a playable version of any of the creativity games mentioned here.
  • Abe & Einstein - This game doesn’t exist in any published form as of yet, but you can play if you’ve read the rules to the game system above.  For this game, the prompts are two random famous people or characters.  Players write what the two people would say if they just met.  It’s hilarious.
  • Get Paul That Promotion - This is my twisted anti-creativity game based on the system.  It is available for free at the link.  You can read about how it was invented with the help of my students here.

Playing in the Classroom

It seems many people are referring to these classroom games as "class presentation games".  If that's what you are looking for, I have several.

I used to make flipcharts that use Promethean software and I'll list those below, but more recently I started these more generic versions as webpages.  All of these games are based on this general system that uses random prompts, creative submissions and a selection of the winner.

And these are the original versions that were designed for ActivInspire and ActivExpressions, but you can adapt them to be used with any computer/projector setup and any classroom response system (including a show of hands).

Note:  Most of my games were taken down from Promethean Planet.  The links below are currently not active.  You can still find Split Decision.  See my Games page for more information.
  • The Haiku Game - Students compete to write haikus based on generic nouns.
  • The Mythology Haiku Game - The same game, but with words related to Greek myths.
  • The Halloween Haiku Game - And the game with words related to Halloween.
  • Split Decision - This game is a little different than the others, but players are encouraged to write creative responses based on a randomly chosen topic.  The goal is to present tough decisions to the class.
Of course any of the traditional games mentioned above could be adapted to classroom play.  You can play with a few contestants, like the classroom flipcharts above, or you could have all students write responses.  Determining a winning submission could be handled with a vote or a single judge as appropriate for your class.

The birth of the creativity game system...

I wrote a few weeks back about my friend Kory Heath and how we met up at Protospiel.  That was in 2003 when my passion for game design was probably at its highest point ever.  I was in love with games and in the pursuit of something new in the hobby.  Protospiel was an annual convention, but it was also a growing group of creative friends.  I remember hanging out that summer with Kory, James Droscha, Stephen Glenn and others.  We talked at a deep level about games and and fun in general for hours on end.  I left with my brain buzzing with ideas.

Over the course of those few days Kory and I discovered we had both created games where  the winner of a contest was chosen by a judge rather than some objective rules.  In other words, instead of quantifying everything and determining a winner by points, a player would just pick the winner or a winning entry that he or she liked best.  But having a judge pick a winner was not the focus of the game.  Instead it was the creativity of the players and the “problem” posed to them that they were trying to solve.  In my game the players were writing funny things about each other and in Kory’s they were trying to come up with analogies.

In the weeks after Protospiel, Kory and I continued discussing these ideas and some like them.  We realized (he first, actually) that we really had a generic system for creativity games.  I loved playing those games because I enjoyed the process of making fun responses.  Kory was impressed with the power of how two random items could generate so many creative ideas.

As Steve Jobs stated, creativity comes from making connections.  When playing these games, some people feel they are not creative enough to come up with a response.  It really is an exercise, though, because with repeated practice (and once they realize failure isn’t so bad) they usually improve.  This observation speaks volumes for what the classroom experience should look like.  I hope these games provide teachers with exercises that encourage students to think creatively.  We need more students who are confident in their ability to create and who find enjoyment in the process.

With our respective groups Kory and I worked on many ideas in this system.  He lived on the East Coast and tested his games with established game designers.  I tested mine with students in the high school game club.  There, we had a ton of fun, but his group was better at the work side of things.  They developed a polished system and had a better focus on quality results.

Some examples of my games are the haiku game and the wacky, almost anti-creativity game, called Get Paul That Promotion.  My students and I had a blast exploring this creative model of play.

Kory’s group eventually created a published version called Why Did the Chicken...?.  Playing off that title, they developed what they called Chicken Games and Kory formalized some of the rules at this site.  The most notable feature that emerged from their play is that players can write as many submissions as they want in two minutes.  It was a great insight that contributes immensely to the excitement and creativity of the game.

This game system is amazingly entertaining and to this day I think it would be my preferred game if I had to choose only one for life.  Quite possibly the best thing about it is that it can be played with nothing more than some pencils and paper.

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