Creativity Lesson: To Err is Wrong

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*This lesson coincides with Chapter 9, To Err is Wrong, from A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech.

Lesson written by: Dan Sadler and Theresa Risner

Grade level range: 3-12

Length of time to teach lesson: 10 minutes

Overview of lesson: Students will reflect on a time when they failed at something and the impact of the failure moving forward.  Students will participate in an activity that allows them to fail before succeeding.  Students will have time to discuss and reflect on examples of famous failures and success stories.

Objectives (learning targets) of this lesson: Students will be able to recognize that failure can be a necessary step on the path to success through discussion and activities that highlight how they can approach failures differently.

Supplies: PowerPoint, Matching worksheet

Step-by-step teaching instructions:

DISCUSSION:  Think of a time in your life when you failed at something?  What did you learn from the failure?  How did it change your course moving forward? 

ACTIVITY:  Powerpoint

I’m going to show you a slide – couple of guidelines to follow:

This is a solo activity – you cannot collaborate with anybody –
You will have 15 seconds to memorize 16 letters that are listed on the next slide but you cannot write or type until you receive the signal –
When you receive the signal, go ahead and write down the letters in order on the back of a piece one of the sticky notes I’ve provided you
Any questions?  Ok – you’ll have 15 seconds – ready, set, go…


How did you do?  Anybody think they got them all?

Let’s go ahead and check our answers – remember – you have to get the right letters AND have them in the right order – ok – here we go (REVIEW CORRECT ANSWERS)

How did you do?  Did anybody get them all right?  3 right?  How about 5?  10? 

DISCUSSION:  So, what did you notice?  How do you think we could make this task easier?  If you could do this task again, what would you do differently?

We are going to try this one more time, but with a different twist:

You till have 15 seconds to memorize 16 letters that are listed on the next slide –
You still cannot write or type until you receive the signal –
Instead of working by yourself – you may choose to collaborate with a partner –
Before we start, I’m going to give you and your partner 45 seconds to come up with a game plan – there will be 16 new letters, but they will be in the same pattern as this slide - 

How did you do? Let’s go ahead and check our answers – remember – you have to get the right letters AND have them in the right order –REVIEW CORRECT ANSWERS

DISCUSSION:  What did you notice this time around?  Why was it easier?  What did you notice when you had time to plan?  How could this approach help you be more successful in school?

DISCUSSION:  I want you to think about somebody that you admire.  What failures do you think that person has experienced in their life?   How do you think those failures have helped them be successful moving forward?

MATCHING WORKSHEET: Working with your partner, please take two minutes to complete the matching worksheet.

FINAL SLIDE – Quote from Albert Einstein “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.”  We learn from trial and error, not trial and rightness.  Errors tell us when to change direction.

Special Notes from the creator of this lesson:  Post images of the “famous failures” from the matching worksheet in your classroom to remind students of the objective. 

Video of famous failures:

Assessment:  The use of this rubric could be either a student self assessment or a teacher/evaluator assessment.  If the rubric is used as a student self-assessment, students would need to provide evidence that matches to the rubric score (e.g. "Ideas that I generated to solve the alphabet challenge were to talk to my partner and have him/her memorize the top lines while I memorize the bottom lines").  If the rubric is used as a teacher/evaluator rubric the student would need to be observed while being scored or have a supplementary note-taker that documents ideas that are generated.  


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