Creativity Starter: Where the Magic Happens


For years I have used a creativity starter called 30 circles. It is just a page with, you guessed it, thirty circles printed on it. I give it to students and say, “Turn as many of the blank circles as possible into recognizable objects in five minutes”.  That is the only instruction I give and then I set my phone timer for 5 minutes and wait.

After the timer goes off, I ask them to compare their solutions with the other students, asking them to make note of similarities in their work. Then we discuss our solutions. The assignment is worth 10 points and if they made any attempt on the page 10 points (full credit) are awarded. 

My desire is that students, in the absence of detailed instruction, will be creative in the solution to the problem. Most students follow what they feel to be implied rules, even though no rules are given. So I see lots of very “round” objects being drawn, or students see the circle as a frame and just draw various objects “inside” that frame. Also, in the absence of requirements, they tend toward completing only a few of the circles. 

Here is what I see most of the time.

Then I begin to ask them questions like… Did anyone…

  • complete 10 circles?  (add 1 extra point)  common
  • complete 20 circles?  (add 1 extra point) uncommon
  • complete all 30 circles?  (add 1 extra point) rare
  • draw outside the lines? (add 1 extra point) uncommon
  • combine two circles to create their solution? (add 1 extra point)  uncommon
  • combine MORE than two circles? (add 1 extra point)  rare

The base score of 2 or 3 is very common, with some students also gaining 1 or even 2 extra points. However, this semester (Fall 2019) I had a student score 6 points on the assignment (she stayed inside the lines).  Her solution is one that I have never seen before (and I have seen plenty).

Typically, I do the assignment right alongside the students since I have 5 minutes to kill. In the myriad of solutions I have personally come up with, none have gone the direction of this student’s solution. My mind, nor the mind of any of my previous students, had ever gone this direction.

She saw the circles, not as circles, but as “holes”.

She chose to craft a solution as though she was viewing  “the sun setting over the ocean with billowing clouds overhead ” as seen through the “holes” in her paper.  

An extremely thoughtful and creative solution to what I thought to be a very straightforward assignment.  You can see her solution below.