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If These Walls Could Talk: 3 Ideas For a Creative Classroom Culture, Part Two by @amyburvall

I have a lot to say
If These Walls Could Talk: 3 Ideas For a Creative Classroom Culture, Part Two by @amyburvall

I have a lot to say

Fostering a Creative Culture in the Classroom, Part 2 of 2

Guest Blog Post by Amy Burvall

Continued from part one where Amy shared the importance of creativity in the classroom and her idea for Wonder Walls.

Metaphor Wall

Metaphors are arguably one of the greatest communication tools humans have. And while they serve to make the complex comprehensible by using comparison with the familiar or commonplace, metaphors can also be a powerful learning tool, and even idea catalyst.

The Why

Sometimes it’s easier for younger students to think metaphorically by using simile (including the terms “like” or “as”). More advanced students might veer towards implied metaphor or allusions (think Robert Frost- “miles to go before I sleep”). It might be worthwhile to revisit the Norse / Anglo-Saxon poetic device called kennings (Beowulf is full of them). Kennings usually consist of a hyphenated two word combination that suggests the essence of something (“whale-road” for “sea” or “northern kiss” for “cold wind”). Common modern kennings include “rug-rat”, “pencil-pusher”, and “tree-hugger.”

Northern Kiss

The key to metaphor is understanding both the essence and the nuances of something. A real challenge is to “force a metaphor,” though this can be a helpful creative constraint that will bring focus to the reasoning. For example – how might “History” be like a tree….a painting….a maze…a highway?



Besides verbal or textual metaphors, students will benefit from employing visual metaphors to showcase their knowledge or help them process their understanding. Visual metaphors can come in the form of any image – artwork, doodles, abstract shapes, photographs, portraits, even emoji….or, alternatively, as physical objects / artifacts.

Perhaps the best part about metaphors is that there is no definitive “right” or “wrong” – it’s all about one’s explanation and justification. Moreover, a comparison can be pushed further into an extended metaphor. And, if students are asked to talk or write about their metaphors they can always augment that task by illustrating it.

Since we are surrounded by metaphors – particularly in marketing – practicing metaphorical thinking can help students be more critical and media-savvy, as well as hone presentation skills. More than that, the breaking of logic that comes with the intentional juxtaposition of two or more dissimilar concepts will enhance creativity in general.

It’s like exercise for the brain.

Linking a problem, for example, to something seemingly unrelated can often lead to innovative solutions, or at the very least the ability to see things from alternative perspectives.

The How

One activity to get you started is to create a crowdsourced pool of words that can be used as metaphorical sparks. Why not write your school’s name or mascot name on the board, and ask students to generate words that start with each letter? They can then write these everyday nouns (concrete works best but abstract can be fun) on sticky notes and affix them like an acrostic poem. Take the topic at hand (this works for any subject and is especially powerful with current events), and ask students to use one of the words as a metaphor for that concept, thoroughly explaining their reasoning. A riff on this is to ask students to post two words on contrasting colors of sticky notes – one commonplace noun and the other a curriculum-relevant term. These explanations can be given orally or in written form, and it might be helpful to do as a collaborative group activity.


Why not create a visual metaphor wall filled with intriguing images (photographs you have found or original ones you or students have taken)? Students can use sticky notes to “label” them with subject specific terms, or to choose one and describe how it serves as a metaphor for the designated concept. Alternatively, students can go on a “metaphor hunt” and take photos that they feel metaphorically and visually represent their assigned vocabulary / idea. This works for broader concepts – for example, if students were exploring their school’s theme or mission statement (“respect”, “pride”, “perseverance”, etc.).


If you prefer to change it up and get more tangible and use physical objects, you might want to designate a table or shelf that can feature these artifacts / realia in a cabinet-of-curiosities kind of way. Likewise, students might be asked to bring in items from home that could serve as metaphor muses. Metaphorical sculptures can even be created using art supplies and found objects (it’s really fun to exchange an object from one’s bag and ask a partner to use it as a metaphor).

Metaphor Muse

Metaphorical thinking is best when it becomes part of the routine.

These activities don’t need to take up much time in the lesson period, but they are rich in return. The essential part, of course, is the articulation of reasoning which can be accomplished in writing, orally, or even digitally with a blog, vlog,or annotation software (try Thinglink or Padlet to contextualize images).

Tag Wall

The Why

Have you ever asked a child the age-old question, “What did you learn at school today?” only to have them reply “I dunno…nothing…”? That happened to me with my daughter one too many times so I decided to be more specific – to provide some “creative constraints.” A fan of alliteration (because it makes things memorable), I asked,

“What did you learn today that was weird…wonderful…worrisome?”

Those became our go-to talking points on the 3:00 p.m. car ride home or at meal time. Everyone thinks better – and, yes, more creatively – when challenged with some “design specs.” That’s why poetry formats like haiku work so well.

I started thinking that the Weird/Wonderful/Worrisome structure could be implemented with any age group and might be a great way for students to share their research or individual learning with others as well as their feelings about what they have learned. A physical wall works well, but again, this kind of wall could be virtual. Moreover, assigning hashtags  #weird #wonderful #worrisome (or whatever other qualifiers you fancy) can organize thoughts about learning if the student is working in a digital space. For example, what if students blogged about an article they read, a literary work, a current event, a video viewed in class? The blog post could then be tagged with the appropriate word, and students could explain why they assigned the topic with that particular tag. Hashtags, of course, work (and can be searched) in many social media spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, blogging sites, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Students are used to the language of hashtags, both as knowledge organizer and as a more creative device for contextualization / commentary.

Weird Wonderful Worrisome

The How

Perhaps divide your designated wall space with painter’s tape and label each section with “weird / wonderful / worrisome”. Encourage students to affix sticky notes with the information they discovered and justify their reasoning. They might even include photographs for more of a visual approach. As aforementioned, due to the hashtag concept this is a natural for digital spaces as well. The most important thing is to allow time for acknowledging and discussing the categorized knowledge. Why not also keep a running list of all the items in each category, and perhaps do a “Top 10” for each at the close of the year?


“Creativity” seems a bit daunting – we know we need more of it, but how do we fit it in to our busy schedules? These three “wall” strategies can hopefully serve as low barrier to entry starting points. Consider space – whether digital or physical – as a muse of sorts.

Amy Burvall

Amy Burvall is a 25 year veteran educator, artist, and co-author of Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom (with Dan Ryder and EdTechTeam Press). She is well known for her “History for Music Lovers” YouTube channel, remixes, and whimsical pink and black graphic design. She is currently freelancing as a creativity consultant but is always looking for new opportunities and people to collaborate with. amyburvall.com / @amyburvall in all spaces

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