Observe and Collect

Looker 3Creative Moves

The creative process is one of going from idea to form or from problem to solution. The end result is producing something innovative, useful, enriching or otherwise of value. The process can be broken down into components, practiced and learned. These include using the senses more deliberately, generating ideas (and problems), finding new connections, playing with possibilities in different contexts and media, changing viewpoints, giving form to ideas (or solutions to problems), getting feedback from others, and reflecting on one’s process of thinking. Critical thinking is not the opposite of creative thinking but is rather part of the creative process. Likewise, convergent thinking is a partner to divergent thinking as children make inferences, evaluations and decisions.

Creative Moves are similar to the Thinking Routines proposed by Ritchart, Church and Morrison in their book, Making Thinking Visible, and are open-ended structures intended to engage children in creative thinking and other forms of 21st century thinking. The long term goal is for these Creative Moves to become habits throughout a lifetime of innovation, problem-solving, communication and self-expression. Each structure is a template used by the teacher to undergird creative activities. The open-end is to allow diverse children to respond naturally in ways that provide clues as to their strengths as thinkers and learners. All of the activities can be done with one child, a classroom full of children or any number in-between


Observe and Collect:

All information comes in through the senses. This includes sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, as well as the sense of proprioception, which is a sense of where the body and its parts are in space. The 21st century brings with it a new level of sensory input in the form of sophisticated still and moving images and new means for creating new kinds of images, sounds and other forms. The Sensory Alphabet provides a vocabulary for talking about this non-verbal information and a platform for making creative leaps between different contexts.

The Sensory Alphabet:










Creative Moves:

Observe and Collect the Sensory Alphabet

  • Choose one non-verbal quality from the Sensory Alphabet.
  • Using “lookers” or other props, ask children to pick out a variety of examples of the quality in different contexts.
  • Ask children use their bodies and/or voices to point to, trace in the air or ground, or imitate the quality.
  • Ask each child chooses a favorite example or two to draw, photograph, videotape, record or collect.
  • Share everyone’s collections by putting them on a table, projecting them on the wall and/or replaying a tape.
  • Ask children altogether to use their bodies and/or voices to point to, trace in the air or ground or imitate the quality in the chosen examples.
  • Talk about the different qualities the children found and encourage the children to make (positive) comparisons as well.
  • Make notes on what children chose as favorites.

A child’s favorite things to observe/collect provide clues as to their individual creative and thinking strengths. Also make note of any unexpected or unusual choices.

Places to Observe and Collect:

  • Photos: Find the non-verbal quality in projected images of nature, architecture, art, work, and other contexts not readily available.
  • Inside: Find the non-verbal quality in the classroom, home and other indoor areas.
  • Outside: Find the non-verbal quality in outside areas and nature around the school and home, as well as on field experiences.
  • For SOUND and RHYTHM, also include recordings of natural sounds, traffic, machines, human-made sounds, different kinds of music, etc.
  • For MOVEMENT, include videos of people and animals moving, vehicles and other machines, trees and other naturally moving things.
  • For SHAPE and TEXTURE, have children also examine and describe small and varied objects they can feel but cannot see in a “mystery” box or bag.

Leaf Magnifier Rubbings


These props are intended to facilitate finding and imitating elements/qualities:


  • Use a smart phone, tablet or camera to take pictures of spaces. One adult can take photos for about 4 children.
  • Ask children to see what part of themselves they can put in or move in the space.


  • Use cameras to photograph both projected and reflected light.


  • Give children a box or bag to collect interesting shapes of rocks and other items.
  • Show children how to use an index finger to trace silhouettes of shapes they see.
  • Photograph shapes.
  • Trace around the silhouette of rocks or other shapes.


  • Show children how to touch thumbs and spread hands with palms out (like a movie director).
  • Take photographs or video of moving things.
  • Ask children to imitate movement they see with an index finger or the whole body.


  • Record sounds with a smart phone, tape recorder, video camera or other device.
  • Ask children to use voice and body to imitate sounds they hear.


  • Record rhythms that are heard.
  • Show children how to clap rhythms they hear and see.
  • Ask children to use an index finger to point to visual patterns and use their voices to make accompanying sounds.


  • Ask children to use an index finger to copy or point to and move along the lines they see.
  • Give each child a pipe cleaner and show them how to shape and re-shape it to resemble the lines they find.
  • Photograph lines.
  • Use paper and marker to draw lines.


  • Show children how to curl one hand like a telescope to isolate colors.
  • Give children small pieces of transparent colored acetate plastic or sunglasses to change the color of what they see.
  • Photograph colors.


  • Give children index cards with a hole cut out to isolate textures.
  • Encourage children to use their hands to feel different textures.
  • Give children thin paper and crayons to make rubbings.
  • Photograph textures.
  • Use a magnifying glass to look more closely at textures.

Expand the view:

  • Verbal forms: Look for non-verbal qualities in the cover, illustrations and other visual parts of books, letters and words.
  • Math forms: Look for non-verbal qualities to measure, count, group and manipulate.
  • “People watching:” Find non-verbal qualities of people, feelings and interactions.
  • Science thinking: Discover specific non-verbal qualities in nature and scientific experiments.


Creative Moves:

Observe and Collect Beautiful Trash

  • Create or find a context with an eclectic mix of “beautiful” trash.
  • Instead of “lookers,” give each child an “Idea Bag” to decorate or personalize. (Any recycled bag will do.)
  • Ask them to pick up things they find interesting and put them in their bag. Tell them to ignore the actual value of the item and just pick up things they like. They are allowed to collect as many or few items as they wish. Try not to influence their choices one way or another.
  • Bring the sacks to an area that has plenty of table or floor space.
  • Ask each child to take items out of their bags and arrange them in a way that is pleasing to them. They can use as many or few of the items as they wish.
  • Talk about the non-verbal qualities you see in their arrangements.
  • Photograph or make notes of each child’s choices. If possible, photograph each child with their arrangement.
  • Decide the strongest non-verbal qualities in each child’s work. Note: Non-visual qualities may be hard to interpret. Don’t worry. Just make your best guesses.
  • Provide him with materials and experiences that facilitate his strengths. (E.g., give a child whose arrangement is 3D, 3D materials to use in work/play.)


Possible Contexts to Find/Make:

Note: Take safety precautions as needed!

  • a junkyard
  • an area near a railroad track where many objects have been scattered
  • a pile of recycled materials
  • a place in nature with many fallen leaves, rocks, twigs, shells or other items.
  • a jar with many small objects, such as buttons, hardware, nature objects, etc.

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Look for these and other non-verbal qualities that figure prominently in their arrangements:


  • 2D
  • 3D
  • large
  • small
  • openings
  • symmetry
  • clumped together
  • lots of negative space


  • shiny objects
  • all dark
  • all light
  • all dark and light
  • objects with strong contrasts


  • 2D
  • 3D
  • geometric
  • organic
  • balance


  • spirals
  • waves
  • branches
  • flow charts
  • other patterns that seem to be moving
  • objects that move easily


  • objects that make sounds
  • arrangements that seem to “vibrate,” “shout,” or “whisper,” etc.


  • regular rhythms/patterns
  • irregular rhythms/patterns
  • objects that make rhythm


  • long lines
  • items in a row
  • items in rows
  • stripes
  • thin lines
  • thick lines


  • white
  • pastels
  • dark
  • primary
  • bright
  • hot
  • cold


  • variety of textures
  • touchable objects
  • visual textures
  • a mass of objects that make a larger object (e.g., a pile of leaves)


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