How to Foster a Creative Mindset in Your Students

In an article published earlier this year, we said “public schools’ focus on teaching to the test may be squelching students’ creativity.” Bright students don’t want to be spoon-fed information, and teachers want imaginative students who think outside the box. Learning how to foster and unleash a creative mindset in students is one solution to this problem!

Why Foster Creativity?
creative thinking

Fostering creative mindsets in your students isn’t just something that will make your school days run more smoothly. As Dr. Michael Hogan suggests, “beyond memory of information we should seek to cultivate comprehension, analysis, and evaluation skills — and at the top of the hierarchy Bloom places synthesis, which implies creativity and possibly the creation of some new knowledge or other artifact of culture. Without synthesis and the creative push to constantly create something new, cultural evolution would cease.”

It’s true that higher-order thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy promote independent learning, thinking, and creativity; however, Dr. Hogan reminds readers that Beghetto and Kaufman’s book, “Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom,” demonstrates how the current transmission and acquisition model of education is responsible for “a creativity deficit in students, who ultimately fail to reach their full potential.” No teacher wants to be responsible for the failure of students, so fostering creativity is a must in the modern classroom.

Four Steps To Encourage a Creative Mindset in Your Students

Educators often aren’t sure how to start fostering creativity. They know it’s not as easy as simply telling kids to be creative. That’s why we started our search for creative inspiration on 99U, which offers “insights on making ideas happen.” We determined that there are four steps all educators can implement quickly and easily in order to start fostering creativity in students:

Step 1: Use Ambient Noise to Increase Creativity

Students beg to listen to music in class, and nearly all of them have their devices and earphones with them. Often, educators deny the requests because they think students concentrate better without much noise. However, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research determined that an ideal work environment includes some background noise. Led by Ravi Mehta of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a group of researchers studied the effects of various noise levels on participants’ creative thinking skills. They found that a moderate level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks, while a high level of noise harms creativity.

So while your students shouldn’t listen to their music at ear-splitting levels, you can allow them to listen to it at a reasonable level. If you aren’t comfortable allowing students to listen to their own music in class, foster creativity with background noise in group settings. A range of browser-based and mobile apps featuring white noise, coffee shop sounds, and background music are available for you to use in your classroom. Check out,, and Coffitivity to set the mood for creativity in your classroom with some background noise or music.

Step 2: Restrict Students’ Brainstorming and Thinking Processes

It may sound counterproductive, but restricting students when they brainstorm helps them to be more creative. The original 1994 study on structured imagination showed that people naturally build from old or existing concepts when brainstorming because it’s easier than being creative. As later studies on this concept have shown, by providing restrictions on brainstorming and other thinking processes, teachers can help students move beyond their background knowledge and delve into unknown areas, thereby fostering and unleashing creativity.

If you’re still unsure about how to constructively restrict students while still allowing them the freedom to create, read this 2013 post from our friends at Edutopia on cultivating imagination. Ainissa Ramirez offers this advice: “Buy a toy without an end goal, like a set of building blocks, and make something that isn’t one of the examples pictured on the storage box.” This principle is applicable for older students as well; for example, consider limiting the number of words in a writing assignment or limiting the number of steps to solve a science problem.

Step 3: Keep Work and Consumption Separate

Students have a number of responsibilities in the classroom, including consuming information and making it their own. It’s difficult, however, to concentrate on learning new information and being creative at the same time. Teachers need to help students learn how to separate work from consumption, and they need to do this by giving students the appropriate tools to consume new information. As a result, students can get down to the business of using their new knowledge and getting creative.

First, provide students with the tools to help them during the acquisition of knowledge during your lessons. Record your direct instruction using a widely available (and free) app such as Evernote, which can be integrated with student portfolios and allows for easy sharing. You also can use Screenr to create screencasts if you’re demonstrating something on your computer. Kids will have access to the lesson materials long after class has ended, and they’ll be able to check their knowledge prior to starting to creatively apply it. Again, Bloom’s Taxonomy comes into play; provide more support at the lower cognition levels so that students are able to synthesize the information creatively.

Step 4: Encourage Counterfactual Thinking 

Again, this step may seem a little counterintuitive, but that’s the point. Counterfactual thinking works at any content level, and it is the last step we have included because students need to ask particular questions — i.e. “What might have been?” and, “What would have happened if x and y were to happen?” — after learning the concepts and skills of a particular lesson or unit in order to create meaning. These alternative scenarios are inherently creative, and by answering them, students unleash their creativity and prove they’ve learned something in class.

Fostering and unleashing a creative mindset in your students may require you to get a little creative yourself. But if you follow these four steps, your kids will be more creative than ever before, and you will see positive outcomes of your lessons and units.