Games to Promote Imagination and Creative Thinking

Games to Promote Imagination and Creative Thinking

8 July 2022 • Words by Kate Purnell 3 mins

In my role as an English teacher for high school students, I am an advocate for children tapping into their imaginations and using their creativity to develop their own original stories, perspectives, and solutions to problems. One of the most challenging tasks is creative writing. In theory, it sounds easy. However, if I were to say there was absolutely no structure to a particular writing task, you may be surprised to hear how paralyzing it is for my students! In a world where much of their day is structured and focused, filled with routines and rules, it can be challenging to break away and let go with their own imagination.

Creative games are something we do as children. It’s part of our cognitive development that helps us understand the world around us. However, sometimes we can feel stuck and lost, just outside of reaching the depths of what our imagination has to offer us. We can look to our children for guidance around our natural abilities to create stories, pretend, use symbolism, and act with spontaneity. In fact, many games and mental exercises that creative professionals use are simply an attempt to reignite this childlike quality in all of us. I studied drama, and any actor, writer, dancer, or musician can tell you that creativity doesn’t always just appear when you want it or need it. Sometimes, you have to go searching for it. Here are some games to try with your young people to cultivate creativity and inspire imagination.

Games to Promote Imagination and Creative Thinking

Carnival at Rio

(Ages 3 and up)

This is a game developed by famed theatre practitioner Augusto Boal and is discussed in his dynamic book Games for Actors and Non-Actors. A group stands in a circle and one person begins by creating a rhythmic sound and movement. After they’ve repeated their sound and movement several times, the next person in the circle starts doing their own sound and movement, while the first person continues with theirs. Then the third person starts in with their unique sound and movement, and so on until the whole group is making a grand noise of sounds and rhythms. After a while, one by one each person stops until the sound reduces down to silence. 

Guess What Animal I Am

(Ages 5 and up)

In this game, one person thinks of an animal, provides clues, and allows others to guess. This is a great game for talking and observing. It also introduces mimicking and acting in a very simple way. 

Playing Shop/Playing House

(Ages 6 and up) 

These are classic childhood games in which kids use imitation to learn. Kids can imitate the adults in their lives and the roles they play. You don’t need any fancy equipment from the toy store; part of the fun is using whatever is around for a symbolic play. The shop aspect leads to a chance for children to count money.

Magic Hat

(Ages 7 and up) 

This can work with a hat, scarf, gloves, socks, or any other object that can easily be worn and shared. Put on the magic object and create a story about what happens. Maybe it makes you invisible, maybe it gives you superpowers, or perhaps it’s an ancient article of clothing from the past. Create and act out the story around the theme.

What Happens Next

(Ages 10 and up) 

In a circle, each person takes turns adding one line to a story. For example, Ellie might say, “This morning I woke up and stubbed my toe!” Then Max might say, “I began hopping on one foot from the pain and then my neighbor downstairs began banging on the ceiling from the noise.” This story continues around the circle. You could even add phrases or rules that help, such as by saying everything needs to start with “unfortunately” or “fortunately” to keep the story going.


(Ages 10 and up) 

This is a classic. Jot down a few simple characters, films, books, or shows, fold the papers and put them into a hat or other container. Each round, someone takes out a paper and acts out what is on it while the others guess.

Short Story Writing

(Ages 11 and up)

Creating a story is a great way to get the imagination going in a relaxing and quiet way. You can give kids guidelines about themes, genres, etc., tell them the length it needs to be, and explain that it has to have a beginning, middle, and end. Add a challenge by saying it needs to include metaphors, similes, personification, or maybe another element like a monster or a mystery. You can even show them an interesting picture or give them a line about a potential plot and have them use it as a starting point. Some great creative writing stimuli with images and prompts are online.

There are so many ways to engage with children to help them to develop and nurture their imagination. Imagination is a key component of our human experience and will only become increasingly beneficial in our modern world. Creativity doesn’t end in childhood, however; it’s key for adults to remain open and have childlike wonderment as well. So if you are feeling stuck or uninspired, why not try some of these creative tactics yourself?

Kate Purnell

Kate Purnell is originally from Oakland, Ca. She currently lives in the UK teaching Secondary English and Drama. An educator, writer and all-around multi-hyphenate, you can find her trying to get her students to fall in love with the power of the human story, writing her own or attempting to not be distracted during her yoga class. You can find her on Twitter and IG @KatePurnell