The Top 10 Greatest Things About Lists (to Generate Creative Thinking)

listsThis article, adapted from a chapter in my book “Teaching Creativity: Supporting, Valuing and Inspiring Young Children’s Creative Thinking,” shows how list-making can be a springboard for students to generate creative ideas.

What could be more mundane and uncreative than writing a list? Lists are for grocery shopping, weekend chores, or what to pack in a suitcase. How could making a list be a springboard for creative thinking?

Linus Pauling, who won two Nobel Prizes
(one for Chemistry and one for Peace) once said:
“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas, and throw away the bad ones.”


Good, creative ideas don’t come from out of the blue, although they may seem to sometimes. They come from thinking, and thinking some more. They come from playing with ideas, turning them around, expanding on them, refining them. They come from a habit of generating a lot of ideas for every problem, question, or artistic project. But too many students haven’t acquired this essential habit of generating multiple ideas.

That’s where our friend the list comes in. It’s a sneaky way to encourage idea generation. No one wants to be told to sit and think about something, but it seems easy to “make a list.” Lists may be relatively simple or complex, depending on the age of the students and the subject matter – anything from “Things I Can Build with Snow” to “Ways to Conserve Paper in the Classroom” to “Possible Future Careers for Holden Caulfield.” (For young children, since they have varying levels of writing skills, it’s more effective for them to make lists as a group, when you are available to help them write.) If your students are new to list-making, start by assigning a five-item list; work up to ten items or more. And remember, you can facilitate their creative process by accepting each idea as it is presented, without labeling it as good or bad. A non-evaluative atmosphere increases the likelihood that students will share more ideas.

So without further ado, here’s my Top Ten Greatest Things About Lists:

  1. Every time a student makes a list of ideas, she is building
    a habit of creative thinking.
  2. When a student has ten (or twenty, or thirty) ideas, it
    increases the probability that one of those ideas will be a good or
    useful one.
  3. Coming up with lots of ideas increases the likelihood that
    students will look at the problem or project from a number of
    perspectives and gain a better understanding of the subject.
  4. Writing ideas down (or drawing pictures of them) is a good habit in itself.

    Ideas aren’t worth anything if we can’t remember them.



5.    Generating lots of ideas can make students more comfortable with having and         expressing “silly” ideas. And “silly” ideas can often lead to great ideas.

6.    Very importantly, this technique encourages students to
       continue thinking, and not to stop when they have an “okay” idea.

7.    Making a list gives them a chance to express ideas in a non-
       evaluative environment.

8.    Making a list of ideas guarantees that students will not begin acting on a                     problem or project until they’ve given it some thought.

9.    The list will serve as a reference and resource students can return to if they’re           creatively stuck at any point in the project.

10.   It’s fun!

Encouraging students to try the “list of ideas” technique will
challenge their creativity and make every project they work on better.


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