Valuing ideas in the classroom

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By Nigel Armitstead

Read time: 7 mins

What is it to have an idea?  Let’s look at some phrases with ‘idea’ in them…

  • Have an idea of
  • The germ of an idea
  • Warm to an idea
  • Share ideas
  • Get the idea
  • Bat the idea around
  • Nothing can stop a good idea whose time has come and hour has struck.

The first three seem to suggest that we can start with a ‘faint idea’ of something and then bring it into sharper focus if we want to.  The second three suggest that the whole process of generating ideas can be shared.  The last one on the list is quite a famous quotation (can you say who it was without Googling??) and this one suggests that an idea can be quite a powerful thing.

Generating and sharing ideas is not the only way we need students to use their brains, but it is an important aspect of what classroom life is about.  Furthermore having an idea, playing with an idea, or simply getting an idea, are all quite pleasant.  Being able to explain your ideas, and being able to listen to and understand another person’s idea, are essential attributes.  Sometimes an idea is intensely pleasing in its own right, and we refer to it as ‘elegant’.  It doesn’t have to be complex to be elegant.

So how can we extend what we already do to stimulate student ideas in the classroom?  Here are some suggestions;

Big words:

Sometimes I started my lessons with a short slide show of visual clues to a big word on the last slide.  Students had to try and guess the last word, which was key to the content of the lesson.  It was fun and engaging. Here an example using POWER as the big word


Key word mindmapping:

This one I credit to Ruth who taught in a primary school in Lewisham were I worked for a while.  She used to start a lesson by putting up a key word in the middle of the whiteboard.  Students, without prompting, add suggestions, examples, experiences, clarifications etc.


Word Games / Word Association Games:

Use simple ‘ideas’ word games: twenty questions, hangman, dingbats etc.

GroupThink Challenges:

Construct lesson activities that allow students to generate and respond to each other’s ideas.  For example in a year 8 maths lesson on codes I put up a coded instruction on the board.  When decoded it said, ‘Put your hands on your head.’  Students worked in teams to crack the code.  They had to put ideas down on a large sheet of paper.  I moved students between groups to share ideas.  Eventually, a group suddenly put all their hands on their heads!

Image they have never seen before… What is it?:

Present students with a picture of something they have never seen before, and ask them to work in threes to come up with an unashamedly fanciful idea of what the object is. A creative way to get students to think out loud! Some examples below … is amazing for this.


Dwell on an idea:

Teach students how to dwell on an idea by looking at and picking it apart into minute detail, by relating it to other things that they already know either as analogies or involving factual relations, and by developing suggestions for how the idea can be used in a variety of ways.

End of lesson Linky:

At the end a lesson discuss with students what the main ideas of the lesson have been.  Ask them to generate connected ideas, including absurd and spurious connections for the sake of lines of humour. You could ask them to connect one idea to a final idea in the least amount of links. This powerful lesson ender challenges their cognitive gap. An example below.

Link the image on the right to the image on the left and explain the idea in as few links as possible


Plant a CONFLICT picture:

Put up a picture which is in conflict with the ideas of the lesson, or at least one of them.  Ask students to handle that conflict.  For example the lesson might have been about ‘fairness’ in some way.  Google out a picture which calls for careful judgement of what is fair and what is unfair.

Reframe an old idea or one that emerges during the lesson:

Reframe an idea from a lesson as a moral issue, and ask for opinions (which are after all moral ideas).  Keep using the phrase ‘what makes you say that’ to get students to explain their ideas.  Ask who should decide the matter.

Using ‘Should’:

After some basic coaching, use any minutes free at the end of a lesson to ask a student (perhaps a volunteer) to suggest an idea with the word ‘should’ in it.  So for example, ‘People should always put their litter in rubbish bins.’  Then ask another student for an alternative idea.  Then ask a third student to decide between the two.  Ask the class to put their hands up if they agree with that decision.  Finish by saying, ‘Interesting!’

Well now, there are some possibilities, possibly obvious ones but never mind that!  Perhaps some of them might be considered ‘hip’ possibilities.  The real trick of a blog though is to participate by making further suggestions.  What has worked for you?  Don’t be shy…

By the way – it was Victor Hugo!!

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