Creative Teaching Ideas

A special thank you to the individuals who responded to a request for creative teaching ideas on the STLHE listserv…


I have had graduate students construct 3-D models to represent metaphors for various concepts and processes.  For example, a student constructed a model of a marathon race and addressed how the model was a representation of the professional journey of a teacher.  She specifically linked the terrain, spectators, pit-stops, etc. to factors that impact a professional’s journey and the research in this area.  Often I have had students submit a written piece to accompany the models but it depends on how complex the concept is and if there is available time for presentation/sharing.

I have also asked students to read self-chosen or assigned pieces of popular fiction and use the characters or plot lines to illustrate theoretical concepts from a course.
It might be easier for me to provide some specifics if I knew the content area the faculty member was working in.

I suggest conducting a search of “metaphor” will also help spark ideas of ways arts can be brought in to a course/program.  For example, I recall reading a research article about using toffee to illustrate how movement under the earth’s surface resulted in changes in the formation of the earth, i.e. the creating of mountains.

  • Theresa Steger, Program Co-ordinator: Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning


Theatre techniques could also be used in teaching – not just with the “teacher as performer and students as audience”: there is a lot more than can be integrated.

Skit demonstration and improvisation techniques can be relatively easy to implement and quite striking in terms of involvement and results.

I have compiled my favorite links on acting and teaching – they can be found here:

  • Robert Parson, Curriculum Design and Quality of Learning Consultant: University of Ottawa


Depending on the subject, any idea around a project could be represented in an artifact that represents the interpretation of the topic according to the student. In LL201 I allowed students to select either an essay topic, or an artistic representation of one of the topics that need to be accompanied by a bibliography of articles on the subject -commentated bibliography-. The end result was unexpected and beautiful. One of the students did the situation of women in Islam and created two beautiful pieces of art with the faces of Muslim of women behind barbed wire -the pictures were actually covered with that- it was powerful and effective. Others did artistic representations of abortion, women abuse, and discrimination. Overall it was extremely well received by students.

In another course on Mexico, they were allowed to research the use of masks in ancient civilizations and they had to recreate one and explain how it was used in the past and what were the changes currently -if any-. Another phenomenal job by the students.

Of, course, the postcards, which it can be applied to any subject.

  • Mercedes Rowinsky, Associate Professor Department of Languages and Literatures: Wilfrid Laurier University


Clemson U. launched a successful initiative in 2001 called “Poetry Across the Curriculum” (see brief description below), which evolved into a broader project  called “Teaching and Learning Creatively” (  This expansion encouraged students to express their understanding of material in all disciplines through artistic forms in addition to poetry:  graphics, music, stories, performance, parables, video, hypertext, quilts, e-poetry, photography, poster design and publication, sculpture, and mixed and fused modes and media.  The broader project produced a 2006 book, Teaching and Learning Creatively; go to for sample pages of visual student products.

Poetry Across the Curriculum (PAC)
Coordinated by Art Young, Patti Connor-Greene, Catherine Paul, and Jerry Waldvogel, the Spring 2004 PAC project was a success with about thirty faculty representing numerous disciplines asking their students to write poetry as part of course requirements. PAC is an ongoing project with the idea not to train students to be poets but rather to provide them with a creative learning and critical thinking opportunity to engage course content and for teachers to use the poems to enhance the classroom as a learning community. For more information about the PAC project, please contact the Campbell Chair, Art Young ( Examples of student poetry from several disciplines are available at
For direct links to student poems, go to

  • Linda Nilson, Director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation: Clemson University


In my creativity workshops, required for undergraduate engineering students I use famous paintings as triggers to solve technical problems.  This works very well.  In other words, the students may be trying to discover why a chemical process is producing purple product when it should be white product.  They have brainstormed possible causes of the fault but their ideas have dried up.  We then show them El Greco’s  View of Toledo or Picasso’s The seated woman or Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream.  This usually gets the ideas flowing from completely different and interesting points of view.

  • Don Woods, Professor Emeritus Chemical Engineering: McMaster University


We had a faculty learning community, Integrating the Arts and the Curriculum, in 2003-04. Information is at
You can see the disciplines represented on the site. This FLC created and published a beautiful monograph, Montage, that described the course changes that were made and the process involved. It is only in print version, and I can send you some slides of various aspects of the book if you are interested.

  • Milton Cox, Center for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment Director: Miami University


I have been running a photography project for 10 years along with teaching Cardiovascular physiology to first year medical and dental students.  It is called Heartfelt Images ( and the students are encouraged to translate into images concepts they are learning about the heart and blood vessels in medicine.  The images can be purely conceptual, figurative, literal or simply artistic and beautiful.

Every year I run this contest I think that the students cannot possibly be more creative and then they are!

  • Carol-Ann Courneya, Associate Professor Faculty of Medicine: University of British Columbia


We have been leading a 2-day Narrative Skills Workshop (NSW) at TAG at UBC for a number of years and it is very well-received. It is attended by all members of the teaching community, and is facilitated by members of our faculty and grad student Instructional Skills Workshop ((SW) team. Our initial team to lead this workshop started under the guidance of Glynis Wilson-Boultbee, who along with Cheryl King, designed the NSW and associated materials.
The workshop very much shows people how, in a structured way within a lesson, they can incorporate things such as narrative, including poetry, into their teaching, both by them as instructor and to involve their students through in-class activities and assignments. At the STLHE that took place in Toronto a few years ago, I lead a pre-conference workshop on use of story and narrative, and am thinking of sending in a proposal to the Creativity themed STLHE that takes place this June, also in Toronto, for a 45- or 90-min session on the use of narrative. Maybe your colleague will be coming to Toronto; it certainly would be a great way to be involved in a lot of creative techniques.

  • Alice Cassidy , Associate Director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology: University of British Columbia

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