Created by: Jenna Fournel and Leal Abbatiello
Age level: Any
Time: As long or short as you like!
This activity was born from a neighborhood walk in which we passed a house with seven bicycles of various sizes and shapes strewn about a small front yard and driveway. We noticed the bikes and wondered aloud, “Why do they have seven bikes?” In the genre of all good improvisation activities, the question sparked a wild round of imagining that lasted for the duration of our stroll.
Like muscles that develop with practice and exercise, our minds grow more and more imaginative as we stretch them to be so. We’ve since expanded on the “seven bikes” theme in subsequent walks, picking up on other things we observe and wondering about them, and each day we find ourselves getting better at envisioning possibilities.
The benefits of this exercise for our creative minds go well beyond good story making, though that is worthy in and of itself. The more you “think outside the box” the better you get at doing so in other contexts. You see challenges from different angles, you find solutions that are not obvious, and you are more likely to embrace the difficulty of solving problems with optimism than with fear of the unknown.
This activity is also a great way to get students talking and dreaming together who might not have done so yet this year. In the virtual classroom, partner-work is difficult. When students come back to the physical classroom they’ll need to learn all over again how to engage in person. The rhythm and scaffolding built into this activity can help.
What to do:
- Begin by inviting your learners to be detectives of the unusual. You might send them outside with notebooks to jot down anything out-of-the-ordinary that they notice. If you cannot go outside, you might show them a busy picture filled with people doing lots of different things and ask them to write down what they notice in the image – focusing on things that are unusual or unexpected. In the origins of this activity, for example, we passed a house with seven bikes sprawled out in front of it.
- Have students craft a question based on what they’ve noticed. What does it make them wonder? Questions might look like this:
- Why was there a sock on the ground under that tree?
- How did that paper cup get up on that ledge?
- Why are there seven bikes in that yard?
- With a partner, students choose one question to explore and they trade the question back and forth, imagining new answers each time. Here is an example of how the back and forth looked with our question, “Why do you have seven bikes?”
Leal: Why do you have seven bikes?
Jenna: Because I am building a bike sculpture from the parts. Why do you have seven bikes?
Leal: Because I have seven dogs who all like to ride them. Why do you have seven bikes?
Jenna: Because they were on sale at our local bike shop and I couldn’t resist a good deal. Why do you have seven bikes?
Leal: Because my friends traded me their bikes if I would do their homework. Why do you have seven bikes?
- Encourage your learners to trade the question for as long or short as you like. Invite them to ask clarifying questions along the way to help each other develop ideas and stories, here is an example of what that might look like:
Jenna: Why do you have seven bikes?
Leal: Because I have seven dogs who all like to ride them.
Jenna: Seven dogs who like to ride bikes? How on earth did you train them?
Leal: I took them to that place downtown, Paws & Pedals.
Jenna: Did you have to redesign the bikes so dogs could ride them?
Leal: A little bit, depending on the length of their legs.
Jenna: Do they like riding bikes?
Leal: Oh yes, it’s much faster when they’re chasing squirrels and the squirrels are so surprised to see a dog on a bike they don’t know what to do.
The activity is fun to do verbally and can elicit a lot of laughs. But as illustrated above it can also be fodder for a great creative writing assignment if learners choose one of the answers to their question to elaborate upon in narrative form.
As described above, this activity can be purely an exploration of our own imaginations. There are also many ways to apply this structure in a disciplinary fashion. Here are some examples:
- MATH: Give students a number and have them come up with as many algebraic expressions as they can for which that number is the answer.
- HISTORY: Show a photo from a historical time period you are studying and have students come up with as many explanations as they can for what might be happening in the photo based on what they know is going on in the time period depicted. Have students figure out what research they would need to do to figure out if their theories about the picture were true. Have them do that research!
- READING: Read an excerpt from a book and have students come up with ideas for what happens next in the story. Introduce them to the idea of fan fiction and have them write their own variations on the story.
- SCIENCE: Show students natural phenomena and have them hypothesize about why it occurred. For example “I’ve watered this plant perfectly, why might it still be wilting?” Encourage vast thinking in the answers, then invite students to create experiments that would test their hypotheses.
- PHYSICAL EDUCATION: Give students certain goals and have them create a variety of healthy exercise/diet routines to achieve them. Consider a real-world application and have them create exercise plans for people in a convalescent home. What constraints do they have to work within? What do they need to know about the human body in order to create their plans?
- ART: Give students a picture of an object and invite them all to create their own drawings or paintings incorporating that object. If your students are working in 3-D consider giving them all the same physical object (for example a plastic spoon, a cardboard box, an egg carton, a sheet of tin foil, etc.) to start with and have them create found-art sculptures incorporating that object. Reflect as a class on the wide variations that emerge even though everyone begins with the same item. Discuss what fuels creative inspiration.
Inspired Teaching Connection
On the surface, this is simply an activity that engages the Imagination of our 4 I’s, and that is more than enough to make it something you do on a regular basis in your classroom. But particularly if you employ something like this as a regular practice to warm up students’ brains at the start of class, or before diving into a particular topic with a disciplinary focus like those described in the variations above – you move into an activity that is actually complex in the way it can address Inspired Teaching core elements. The stories and ideas learners are creating can be Joyful. With a disciplinary focus, the product, as well as the process, can provide Wide-ranging Evidence of Student Learning. Inviting students to begin with and then explore their own noticings is a strong example of centering their own Expertise.
See our instructional model here.