Education, English as Second Language

How to Teach Children to Think Outside the Box

Teach Kids to Think Outside the Box

Here is a great lesson plan from my “bag of tricks.”

By Ron Hendricks

This is one of my favorite lesson plans because it can be adapted to just about any age and skill level. It can also be used for small or large groups.

Materials: Cardboard box, whiteboard and marker, or blackboard and chalk.

Objectives: Students will explore and expand their English vocabulary, listen and participate in a story about facing challenges, use their thinking skills to solve puzzles, and learn and understand the American idiom “think outside the box.”

Introduction: (1-2 minutes)
Begin by placing a cardboard box on a desk. The children are usually curious, so show them the box is empty. Write the word “box” on the board and have the children say it with you.

Next, draw a stick figure of a little girl on the board and ask the children to help you give her a name. Then, begin the story…

Story: (5 – 10 minutes)
Once upon a time in China there was a little girl. She lived in a very small village at the foot of a very tall mountain. (Draw village and mountain and ask children to repeat the words.) In fact, this mountain was so tall that nobody from the village had ever bothered to climb to the top.

This mountain was so tall that the clouds (draw clouds) always circled the mountain and blocked out the sun (draw sun). The people of the village had never, ever seen the sun. In fact, the people of the village did not even know the word for “sun!”

One day, the little girl woke up very early. (For young groups or groups with little or no English, pantomime the girl waking up, etc.) She yawned and stretched. And then she had an idea. She said to herself, “Today I will climb the mountain. Today I will see what is at the top!”

She jumped out of bed and before anyone else in the village was awake, she began to climb the mountain. She climbed and she climbed and she climbed. And she climbed and she climbed and she climbed. She grew very tired and sat down to rest. “Maybe this is a bad idea” she thought. “Maybe I should just go home to my warm little bed and forget about climbing.”

But then, she stomped her foot and said “No, I said I would climb to the top and that is what I will do!” So on she climbed. The path got steeper and steeper, but still she climbed.

Soon she came to the beginning of the clouds. She stopped for a moment and thought. “Maybe I should just go home to my warm little bed and forget about climbing.”  But then she stomped her foot and said, “No, I said I would climb to the top and that is what I will do!” And on she went.

Now, inside the clouds it was very cold and quite hard to see. It was strange and scary, but the little girl kept on climbing. As she climbed through the clouds she thought about her warm little bed, about her village and about her family. She started to worry about her Mother and Father.

“Oh! I better go back right now because my family will be looking for me,” she thought. But then she stomped her foot and said, “No, I said I would climb to the top and that is what I will do!” And then something wonderful happened…

As she stomped her foot, the clouds began to part and the little girl saw a beautiful blue sky! But that was not all, no, that was only part of it. Right in the middle of that beautiful blue sky was a big, round, orange, bright and warm…. ball!

She stood staring for a moment. She could not believe her eyes. She ran the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. And then she lay down in the warm glow of that bright, orange ball and fell fast asleep.

When she woke up, she was afraid. She had dreamed that her family and the people of the village were looking for her. So she jumped up and started to run. Down, down, down the mountain she ran as fast as she could.

When she reached the village, there was a large crowd of people gathered around her house. She saw her mother and father in the middle of the crowd and ran up to them. “Oh! There you are daughter! We were so worried! Where have you been?”

But the little girl did not stop to answer their questions. Instead she shouted, “Good news! Wonderful news! In the sky there is a big, round, orange, bright, warm, beautiful…ball!

The End

Questions: (3 to 5 minutes)
1. What do you think the people of the village said to her?
2. What do you think her parents said to her?
3. Why do you think they reacted this way?
4. Why do you think no one from the village had ever climbed the mountain before?
5. What do you think it means to “think inside the box?”
6. What do you think it means to “think outside the box?

Exercises: (10 to 15 minutes)
Draw a square on the board and ask the students “What is it?” They will probably say “a square” or “a box.” Write their answers on the board. Now challenge the students to “think outside the box.” Go around the room asking each student “What is it?” Write each answer on the board. (e.g. a book, a TV, a desk, a piece of paper, etc.)

Repeat the exercise with other shapes (a triangle, a circle, a rectangle, etc.). Ask the children to explain their answers.

If there is time, divide the class into small groups. Have each group draw an everyday object, but from a completely new angle. For example, what would a door look like from a side view? What might a bus look like from underneath? What does a pencil look like from the pointy end? Have someone from each group draw their picture on the board.

Puzzle Handout: (5 to 10 minutes)
Alone or in pairs, have the children solve the puzzle on the handout. There are many printable handouts available on the Internet. Adapt the handout to the age and skill level of your class.

There is a classic “think outside the box” puzzle involving nine dots and four lines. It is sometimes called the Christopher Columbus Egg Puzzle.  Look for it on the Internet.

Hold the cardboard box in the air and ask “What is it?”  Yes, it’s a box, but maybe it is more than that! Remind the students of the little girl who climbed the mountain and discovered the sun. Challenge them to “think outside the box” whenever they encounter difficult problems.