Creativity Lesson: Tic-Tac-Toe

Suggested Books

*This lesson coincides with Chapter 6, That’s not my area, from A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech.

Lesson written by:  Wendy Petty and Chris Nerska

Grade level range: 5-8

Length of time to teach lesson: 10 minutes for the lesson on Specialization vs. Creativity, 50 minutes if you create a classroom lesson for Middle School.

Overview of lesson: Students will be exposed to real life examples of innovations made possible through the combination of seemingly unrelated fields. They will be given an overview of the three main ideas from the chapter. Students will then play a matching game of Tic-Tac-Toe. The goal is to match two seemingly unrelated areas of expertise to win the box for either their “x” or “o,” earning “three in a row” to win the game. Students will then discuss how these concepts could help them in their own classroom.

Objectives (learning targets) of this lesson: Students will be exposed to the advantages of looking for creative inspiration outside of their usual discipline.

Supplies:  Game board and two “decks of cards.”

Step-by-step teaching instructions:

1. Give student an overview of the material covered in Chapter 6, “That’s Not My Area” of A Whack on the Head by Roger von Oech. Highlight the three main points.

  • Be open to ideas everywhere. While specializing in your area of expertise, be open to ideas from unusual avenues outside your discipline.
  • Allow yourself to be led astray.  Specialization tends to give one tunnel vision. Make an effort to follow the rabbit trails you encounter as they may lead to new perspectives or methods.
  • See the obvious. Do not over-think the obvious avenues of exploration. While being open to the unusual and novel, do not overlook clear and evident solutions.

2. Use the quote by Bob Wieder as an overview of the concept.     “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique and history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” – Bob Wieder

3.  Give students instructions for how to play the Tic-Tac-Toe game.  Page 1 is the game board, page 2 is the "x" cards, and page 3 is the "o" cards.

4.  Read the game board.  The first player to go is the one who chose the “x” deck.  The “x” player reads aloud the clue on the top of his/her deck, then tries to match this clue to the proper choice on the game board.  The teacher then lets the student know whether the answer is right or wrong. If the answer is right, the player places his/her “x” on the specified square. If the answer is wrong, they teacher gives the right answer and the player places the clue on the bottom of his/her deck. The “o” player then takes a turn. Play continues like this until someone gets a “three in a row” becoming a winner. If the students finish early, they can race to get a “blackout” covering the entire game board in the least amount of time. The teacher will use a timer to record the time of each player. The one with the lowest time wins. This acts as a review, reinforcing learning and providing a formative assessment for the teacher.

5.  The final minutes of the lesson consist of talking about any areas the students may have learned about or experienced where creativity has crossed disciplines to create innovative solutions. Lastly, students discuss how this type of creativity could be used in their own learning.

Special Notes from the creator of this lesson: This type of creative lesson could be used in any classroom for any discipline. Perhaps the first time this is done, students are given a Tic-Tac-Toe game by the teacher. The next time it is done, students work in teams to create a unique Tic-Tac-Toe game about a given topic. The next time it is done, students create a game/activity of their choice about a given topic. This is one avenue that creativity can be developed incrementally within the classroom.

Assessment:  Students use problems to combine fields of expertise together.  See this teacher-made example with an attached problem-solving rubric.


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