Popular Thinking Tools


First developed by Tony Ryan (1990).
This thinker’s key encourages students to look creatively at everyday objects. Rather than simply accept the current design is the best it can be, students are encouraged to consider how applying BAR may improve the design.

B Bigger

What could be made bigger?
- increase the size of everything?
- increase the size of some parts?

A Add

What can be added to the design?
- to make it more appealing?
- to make it more versatile?

R Remove/Replace

What can be removed from the design?
- to make it cheaper?
- to make it more durable?
- to make it less complex?


Similar to the BAR technique, SCAMPER is a slightly more complex acronym that can easily be applied to any creative situation.
Students can apply this technique to everyday objects, events or ideas to create something quite different or to seek improvement of the existing design.
What might we ....

S - Substitute

Substitute a person or an object to serve in a different way or role
Who else? What else?

C - Combine

Bring together or unite. Blend ideas, materials or situations.
Can we combine: Different materials? Purposes? Concepts or Ideas?

A - Adapt

Adjust to suit another purpose or set of conditions.
Can we adapt? What could I copy and use elsewhere?

M Modify (magnify/minify)

Modify attributes, frequency or size.
Enlarge to make larger in form or quality.
Reduce to make smaller, lighter, less frequent.

P Put to another use

New or novel ways to use it as it is.
What else can it be used for if modified?
What else can it be adapted for if modified?

E Eliminate

Remove or omit a quality, a part or the whole.
What might be left out all together?
What parts are not required?
What quality can be eliminated?

R Remove/Reverse

Change order, adjust or create anew sequence, layout or scheme.
Reverse roles?
Can components be interchanged?

Further SCAMPER resources:

Random Input

Think about something completely different and then see if a connection can be made to the problem or issue at hand.
This online tool takes you through the process:
a)defines the problem
b)generates a random word
c)encorages you to see links/connections
You could do the same with visual stimulus by simply looking around a room and using the first object you focus on as your random input.
This visual search engine might also be useful: http://oskope.com/

The Idea Lottery http://www.ideachampions.com/idea_lottery.shtmlis a simple idea generating tool to help you discover new connections and solutions. The tool takes you through the following process as a way of generating fresh, creative ideas.
  1. Write your challenge as a "How can I?' question
  2. Write up to 15 "elements" of your challenge in the boxes
  3. Write up to 6 random words unrelated to your challenge
  4. Click "generate grid"
  5. Brainstorm (using new connections on your grid to spark ideas)
  6. Write new ideas about your "How can I" challenge
  7. Choose your hottest new idea and elaborate on it

Example: Character for new book – stimulus picture of rowboat

Other random word stimulus – dictionary opened at random/magazine or newspaper Visual – pictures./paintings/photos

Forced Relationships

Compare the problem with something else that has little or nothing in common and gain new insights as a result
i.e. how is thinking like a motorbike?
how is a classroom like a cellphone?
Watizit is the online version of this technique. It uses ambiguous graphics to push the user to conceptualize visually. Because the graphics are ambiguous, the brain isn't able to quickly identify patterns or "make sense" of the pictures. In TRYING to find patterns in the picture, the brain invents all kinds of possibilities. Plan to spend at least 20 minutes, if not more, working with Watizit.

Word Tools

Word Association

Randomly generates words associated, in some way, to the word you input.

Visual Thesaurus

A dictionary and thesaurus with an innovative visual display that encourages wider exploration of the word that you have entered.
Limited number of free trials.

Visual Words

Free online graphical dictionary

Other strategies/ resources to help get into a creative 'zone'.

Applying the Tools

  • The following sites capture some excellent examples of creative thinking and innovation.
http://www.thumbsupuk.com/index.php - the latest products to the world markets. The toy section is well worth a look.
http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1129516,00.html - best inventions – Time Magazine
http://www.kk.org/streetuse/index.php - this site features the ways in which people modify and re-create technology
Pose the questions:
What thinking tools ( if any ) might the inventors have used?
What other ideas do these products spark in you?

  • Keep up with the latest web 2.0 tools with this blog.
Challenge : Choose a tool. How could this tool be used in our classroom to help us learn?