Monday, April 28, 2014

Lateral Thinking Stories for the ESL Class

What is lateral thinking? 

In 1973 Edward De Bono developed the term “Lateral Thinking”. Lateral thinking involves looking at a situation or a problem from a unique or unexpected point of view, avoiding the linear and step by step approach of a normal problem solving.

He proposed instead a more creative answer from taking a step “sideways” to re-examine a problem from an entirely different and more creative viewpoint.

De Bono suggests that lateral thinking is necessary for coming up with solutions that aren’t so straightforward. Teachers and students can find that lateral thinking is an especially useful technique for the creative arts. When writing a short story, for example, lateral thinking would be an effective tool for coming up with unexpected twists and turns in a plot.

Lateral thinking is also a skill that researchers use when evaluating evidence or interpreting sources. De Bono explained that typical problem-solving attempts involve a linear, step by step approach.

In ESL, Lateral Thinking Puzzles are a great resource for thinking, speaking and writing because they are often strange situations which require an explanation. They are solved through a dialogue between the teacher who sets the puzzle and the student or students who try to figure out the answer. The puzzles generally do not contain sufficient information for the student to uncover the solution. So a key part of the process is the asking of questions wheter in a cooperative or collaborative way or indiviguallyThe questions can receive one of only three possible answers - yes, no or irrelevant.

There are many Thinking Puzzles you can find in the net (I offer you some links at the end of this post!) that you can use as prompts to speak or to write (dialogues, short stories, discussions...).

As a taste here you are two materials you can use whether in late primary or secondary:

1. "Four Pictures One Word" From It is a simple way to practice English in class while having fun. This game is suitable for a number of age groups and English levels. Students view four related pictures and they must guess the word that connects them all. Try this example:

You can find the complete game and rules in

2. Some Lateral Thinking Puzzles to think, question, discuss and solve...

As an example, a famous Lateral Thinking story: The man in the Elevator

"A man lives on the tenth floor of a building. Every day he takes the elevator to go down to the ground floor to go to work or to go shopping. When he returns he takes the elevator to the seventh floor and walks up the stairs to reach his apartment on the tenth floor. He hates walking so why does he do it?

Answer: The man is (of course) a dwarf. Variants of this puzzle include the clue that on rainy days he goes up in the elevator to the tenth floor (he uses his umbrella!)

As a reinforcement of Lateral Thinking you can use DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats method, adapted to ESL students by opening a dialogue exploring any issue from six possible points of view:
  • the white hat reflects neutral, factual information; 
  • the yellow hat takes a sunny optimistic perspective;
  • its counterpart, the black hat sees problems or pitfalls; 
  • the red hat allows a thinker to express him or herself from an intuitive, emotional point of view without any need for justification;
  • the green hat encourages “out-of-the-box” thinking or lateral thinking 
  • and finally blue hat-thinking is the summarizing, moderating perspective, pushing the conversation in a certain direction and concluding the observations with an overall resolution. 

"When focused and collaborating in these specific directions, my student have experienced a new freedom from generating the conversation structure and enjoy the common goal of solving an issue, beyond debating it from a right or wrong perspective. The goal of the ‘debate’ is not a consensus but a resolution. After the initial teaching and structuring of the technique, I have been able to withdraw from the conversation, enjoy the magic and spend my time on the emergent language" (

Where can you find Black Stories, White Stories, Brain Teasers or Lateral Thinking Stories for the ESL Class? Have a look at these links! Here they are plenty of them!

To learn more about Lateral Thinking related to ESL teaching go to 

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