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In my last article, I wrote about using a vintage innovation approach to create meaningful distance learning lessons. Being creative often means designing these activities and projects from scratch. However, creativity doesn’t always work this way.

When we think of creativity, it’s easy to picture a person coming up with something entirely new, pulling it from thin air and making it from scratch. But if you watch people engaged in creative work, they are often critical consumers of the same type of work they create. There’s this ongoing cycle of critical consuming, inspiration, and creative work. As they create more, it leads to a deeper ability to consume critically, where they find more inspiration, and the cycle continues.

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In other words, critical consuming is vital for creativity. Part of being a creative teacher is being a great curator. As a curator, you piece together resources, research, and ideas as you develop lessons. We curate the content that we teach. This isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. It’s what happens when we find a great book or video and share it with our students.

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I mention this because there’s sometimes a stigma attached to use “boxed curriculum.” There’s this idea that you’re less creative as a teacher if you use something that another person designed. To be honest, I used to have this attitude. As a new teacher, I referred to any pre-made instructional materials as “Hamburger Helper for Teachers.” But then I watched this teacher Kelly down the hall and she would piece together curriculum in a collage of great ideas and materials and I witnessed her creative genius. I realized that my mockery was arrogance and I began to borrow some of those same ideas and actually buy a few of the same classroom materials as I created mash-ups of my own.

It’s true that I love making classroom materials – even now that I am in higher education. But that’s my personality and my creative approach. However, I’ve learned that sometimes the best creative approach is to take ideas and materials from others and modify them to make them my own. That’s not less creative. It’s just smart teaching.

So, with that in mind, I want to share a few free classroom materials that I’ve created. These materials are based on a few ideas:

  • Student creativity
  • Fun – yes, fun. They are meant to be intrinsically enjoyable.
  • Inquiry and curiosity
  • Tech integration (each of these include elements of tech)
  • Options for collaboration
  • Divergent thinking

Feel free to modify them for your own context.

#1: Genius Hour

Time Required: 1-5 Days

Materials Required: This works best when you have devices.

Description: Genius Hour (also called 20% Time) is a chance for students to engage in an inquiry-driven, independent project. They own the entire learning process, from the concept to the questions, to the research, to the project management to the ultimate final product. Here’s a quick video description of what Genius Hour looks like:

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Here’s a video you can use with your students. Note that you can get a free copy of both videos (in case YouTube is blocked at your school) in the Ten Creative Ways to End the Semester Resource Pack at the bottom of this post.

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Download It: If you’d like to download it, fill out the form below:

Free Genius Hour Resources

Please leave your email address below and click the yellow submit button to receive the two Genius Hour videos along with a short guide of mistakes to avoid in doing Genius Hour. I will also send you a weekly email with free, members-only access to my latest blog posts, videos, podcasts and resources to help you boost creativity and spark innovation in your classroom.

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#2: Scratch Video Game Projects

Time Required: Full Week

Materials Required: This project works best when you have one-to-one devices

Description: If you haven’t checked it out before, go take a look at Scratch. It’s a way to teach logic and programming through the use of blocks that students use to manipulate objects. Students can start out small by following the directions to create a Pong game. Afterward, you can encourage them to move on to a place where they hack the game and make it their own. Then, you can have them set up their own games that they truly design.

If you’re interested in launching a Scratch video game, check out the site and start with the Pong game. I also have instructions on how I taught Scratch (the three phases) with middle school as well as a list of 8 lessons I learned along the way. You can find those in the Ten Creative Ways to End the Semester Resource Pack at the bottom of this post.

Download It: If you’d like to download it, fill out the form below:

#3: Design Thinking Project

Time Required: Full Week

Materials Required: Design thinking can work well with technology or with low-tech options

Description: Design thinking is a flexible process for getting the most out of the creative process. It is used in the arts, in engineering, in the corporate world, at universities, and in social and civic spaces. You can use it in every subject with every age group. It works when creating digital content or when building things with duct tape and cardboard. It can even be used in planning events or in designing services. So, the idea here is that you are providing a meaningful structure to help students design a product that they will launch to an authentic audience. The following video helps explain the process:

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This is the perfect time of year to test out design thinking. While other classes are watching Frosty the Snowman, your students can engage in inquiry, research, ideating, and prototyping. They will do something creative — and they’ll remember it forever. If you’re interested in trying design thinking, I have included the Create a Sport Challenge and the Tiny House Project (math-related) in the Ten Creative Ways to End the Semester Resource Pack at the bottom of this post.  Both projects include lesson plans, student notebooks, slideshows, and the videos.

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Download It: If you’d like to download it, click here and fill out the form.

#4: Thematic Blogs

Time Required: 1-5 days

Materials Required:  Blogging works best with desktops or laptops but can still be accomplished with smartphones or tablets

Description: In keeping with the theme of student ownership, thematic blogs are blogs based on a student’s interests, passions, and ideas. It could be a foodie blog, a sports blog, a fashion blog, a science blog, or a history blog. They choose the topic and the audience. It’s a great way for students to practice writing in different genres (persuasive, functional, informational/expository, narrative) with specific blog topics they choose. They can also add multimedia components, like slideshows, pictures, videos, and audio.

Think of all the blogs out there that people actually make outside of school. That’s what you want students to create. It’s their chance to participate in the global blogging community by tapping into their own expertise and interests.

Download It: If you’re interested in getting started, I have included things like sentence stems and other student handouts that might be helpful as you begin the process. Sign up below.

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Enter your email address below and receive the Student Blogging Toolkit. I will also send you a weekly email with free, members-only access to my latest blog posts, videos, podcasts and resources to help you boost creativity and spark innovation in your classroom.

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#5: Writing Journals with Video Writing Prompts or Visual Prompts

Time Required: 1 class period

Materials Required: You can go low-tech with this and do visual writing prompts on a screen (projector or interactive whiteboard) and have students use composition books

Description: If you don’t have the best technology in your classroom, but you do have a projector or interactive whiteboard, consider doing visual writing prompts with a picture or a video. The idea here is to choose high-interest ideas that get students excited about writing. I have included a free set of video prompts in the Ten Creative Ways to End the Semester Resource Pack at the bottom of this post.

Here’s an example of a writing prompt you could do to get students excited about writing.

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If you like that, would you consider subscribing to the channel at

Download It: f you’d like to download any video prompts, check out and download any of those prompts. If you’d like to get 100+ video writing prompts, fill out the form below:

#6: Sketchnote Videos

Time Required: 25 minutes (easiest version) to a full week (most challenging version)

Materials Required: This can be mostly low-tech, with paper, pencils, markers, whiteboards, etc. But the video portion will require a video camera or smartphone.

Description: I love the idea of making ideas visual and sketchnoting is one of the strategies you can use to help students take complex ideas and convey them in a way that is visual and concrete. But I also love taking it to the next level by having students craft short sketchnote videos that convey an idea, concept, or process. So, it might be something like life cycles or how a bill becomes a law.  There are four layers of sketchnote videos that work well, ranging from easiest to hardest.

Level One: Flipbook Style (Very Easy) 

Here, students create multiple pages with a sketch and a core idea. Afterward, one student flips the pages as another student videotapes the pages and a third student reads the script. This is essentially a picture book on video. But if you want to get more complicated and show any kind of movement, check out level two.

Level Two: Stop Motion (Fairly Easy)

This is the stop animation approach. Students sketch out their ideas and then cut them out. They can then maneuver these ideas with their hands in a video. When they go to film it, one student uses a smartphone while a second student moves the items around. A third student reads a script. Afterward, they can post it online or share it with their teacher.

Level Three: Whiteboard Videos (Moderately Difficult)

Students start out by storyboarding a concept they’ve learned throughout the quarter. They then record one member of their group sketching out the ideas in an RSA Animate style with the whiteboard. Next, they speed up the whiteboard drawing, edit out any mistakes, and add an audio layer that they record in iMovie or Movie Maker. It doesn’t require a ton of technology, but it does require some creative risk-taking. What I love about this is that you can have multiple students making the videos in small groups and then rotate who edits it on the computer. So, if you have limited student computers, it can still work.

Level Four: Animated Videos (Very Difficult)

These are the types of videos I enjoy making. They can take hours to make and they require Photoshop. If you’re interested in the process, here’s a detailed description in a blog post I created after my son spent a full day making his video. This is the video he created. I think it’s pretty awesome. Then again, I’m his dad, so that’s par for the course, right?

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Download it: If you’re interested in doing sketchnote videos, you can find more detailed instructions by filling out the form below:

#7: Maker Projects

Time Required: One class period

Materials Required: Maker projects can work well with technology or with low-tech options. Note that the two examples I am giving are both low-tech.

Description: There are a few ways to approach maker projects. The first uses design thinking to go through the entire design process (see the design thinking option listed in #3. The second involves less research and planning and gets students into rapid prototyping as soon as possible. The idea here is that students make something with physical products that they are upcycling — often duct tape, cardboard, and plastic.

Download it: If you’re interested in doing a maker project, you can find the free Tiny House maker project here by filling out the form below.

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Enter your email address below and receive the free Tiny House Project, with lesson plans, slideshows, and videos. I will also send you a weekly email with free, members-only access to my latest blog posts, videos, podcasts and resources to help you boost creativity and spark innovation in your classroom.

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Here’s one that’s a little more math and science-related:

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#8: Divergent Thinking Challenge

Time Required: 40-90 minutes

Materials Required: You can determine your own materials but it helps to keep it low-tech and to limit it to 2-5 items that are seemingly unrelated. The more unrelated they are, the better!

Description: Divergent thinking challenges are a simple way to move into rapid prototyping while inspiring divergent thinking. Here’s the basic premise of it.

Download it: You can download this maker challenge here.

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#9: Wonder Day / Wonder Week

Time Required: Single Day or Full Week

Materials Required: This project works best when they can do online research.

Description: This is a fun, easy way to get students engaged in non-fiction reading. I use it as a high-interest way to help students learn the research process. Students begin with the sentence stem, “I’m wondering why/what would/how/if __________” and from there they ask tons of questions. This ultimately leads to research and finally a place where they share what they learned. For more ideas on how to bring wonder back into the classroom, check out this post.

Download It: If you’re interested in doing a Wonder Day project, please download it here. I include a lesson plan and slideshow as well. I also include a video showing a simple approach to teaching students how to engage in media literacy. You can download it by filling out the form below.

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#10: Podcasts

Time Required: Single Day (or Multiple Days)

Materials Required: Smartphones or microphones, and computers (optional)

Description: I love having students create videos. However, videos can take time and it’s more of a challenge to deal with props, lighting, staging, etc. This is why I love podcasts. They can work individually, with partners, or in small groups. It can be more scripted or more open. If you want, you can have students edit the podcasts and add music by using Garage Band or Audacity. But you can also do a simple recording with smartphones.

Access it: If this seems interesting to you, I created a quick sheet called 20 Ideas for Student Podcasting that you can learn more here.

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Bonus: Read Aloud

I also wanted to announce a small project that I started two weeks ago. As a dad, I’ve noticed that my kids are feeling a little anxious and stir crazy being stuck at home. I believe social isolation is the right thing to do and we are sticking with this as a family. However, that doesn’t make it any easier for my kids.

For this reason, I have been writing a chapter a day in a children’s book. The age range is somewhere around 9-13. Think middle grades. I understand the need for children to process what they are feeling and to dive into rich stories with a powerful social message. There are some great books that will help children do that. However, I also think kids need to have an escape. They need to laugh and goof off and play. With that in mind, I am going to be sharing a fiction story. This is a new iteration of a story I told a few years ago to my kids a few years ago. I’m hoping other kids enjoy it as much as my kids did. Each day, I will release a new chapter with text and audio, along with a few discussion questions.

When you sign up, I will send out the text and the audio file via email. I will also embed the audio and text on this site. You can then share the site with your students or their families. You can also email out the files or embed them into a learning management system such as Google Classroom. I also include discussion questions.

Sign up below for access:


Find More Resources

While all seven of these resources are free, I have also partnered with Presto Plans to create alternatives to book reports. If your students are doing independent reading at home, these creative alternatives are high-interest and they include my sketch videos. You can purchase them here. You can also find other classroom materials for free or to purchase on my classroom materials page.


John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Mariela says:

    Gracias por todo!!!! Mariela

  • Kelly says:

    Thanks! Your ideas are amazing! Once I have more free time, I will be reading your books. They have been on my desk for the last few weeks. I plan on using your ideas with my students and my now homeschooled daughter.
    Kelly in CT

  • Sara waldron says:

    Incredible resources!!! Thank you so much

  • Becky says:

    Thank You!! Everything you have sent has been so helpful, and I love that I can keep my kids curiosity flowing along with their design thinking mindset. You are truly an amazing educator>

  • Tanya says:

    You are amazing! My own kids at home are already doing the Design a Sport challenge!
    Keep doing the wonderful work you are doing!

  • Jennifer Sue Hodapp says:

    My students LOVED Super Pizza! In fact, some of them asked if you will make a sequel! Thank-you for your wonderful materials!

  • Karen says:

    Hello John, thank you for sharing these brilliant activities. For sure, my online students will be more excited to be in my class just like in the face-to-face instruction. With your resources, distant learning will be made fun and productive.

  • Divina E. Caber says:


  • Lily Rose says:

    Hi, John Spencer, Thanks! Your blog is amazing! Once I have more free time, I will be reading your books. They have been on my desk for the last few weeks. I plan on using your ideas with my students and my now homeschooled daughter. keep it up thanks once again!

  • James says:

    Thanks! Your recommendations are excellent! Everything you’ve provided has been quite helpful, and I’m looking forward to putting your advice into practise with my students and children. Keep it up, and thank you once again!

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