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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

That Time I Dreamt About Lesson Plans

In my presentations on creativity, I always suggest to folks to have a dream diary…some sort of notebook by the bed to record thoughts upon waking or archive actual dreams, if vivid enough. The artist Salvador Dali notoriously fancied pinning down the meanderings of his subconscious, even devising methods to force himself awake in the midst of a dream. The most well-known anecdote involves him falling asleep holding a spoon over a tin plate, and when it would invariably drop mid-slumber, he’d rouse with some snippets of surrealist ideas.

This morning I emerged, mazily, from a dream about being a substitute teacher in a World History class. The students had no digital devices or access to anything but an archaic looking mammoth of a textbook. It was the beginning of the year as well as the beginning of my relationship with the class, so I thought of two go-to activities to get to know them and for them to get familiar with the curriculum.


I’ve got a love/hate relationship with icebreakers. In one respect they are totally useful and yes, even necessary, in order to foster some sense of culture or community. Using cliché  icebreakers, however, can get stale really fast – it’s like being able to recognize the same iMovie music tracks used on every student-produced film.

That’s how I feel about “2 truths and a lie” (maybe it’s because my truths always seem like lies). In this dream, I changed it up while still keeping a simple, low barrier to entry task.

I asked the students to share:

something they regretted

something they hoped for 

a big wonder / question (an open-ended one of course)

The regret/ hope could be for school or the class, or they could take it to the next level and make it about life. That way, if someone was uncomfortable in disclosing that their mom had run over their cat, for example, they could just state that they regretted not trying so hard last year in P.E. class or even getting bangs in second grade.

In my dream scene, students shared the first bits orally but for the Wonder they also wrote it on a small piece of paper and affixed it to a makeshift Wonder Wall (hilariously adorned with images of the members of Oasis).


This next bit echoes some of the activities Dan Ryder and I have in our book, Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom. I wanted to give the students a chance to dip into the curriculum on their own, much like I used to explore, serendipitously, the giant dictionary at my grandmother’s house. I wanted them to get a teaser of what they’d be learning.

Each student grabbed 3 index cards (unlined of course!), and randomly chose a chapter in the colossal text (in real life one could pre-select and have students sign up on a spreadsheet or, if analog, poster).

Their challenge was to skim the text they were matched with (perhaps call these “blind dates”?) and synthesize the main points into three visual icons, 1 per card.  Since there was a time constraint, they could jot notes on the back of each card.

After a mere 15 minutes or so they had ad hoc presentation, which they were then responsible for teaching back to the class. As the instructor, I was there to facilitate, amend, add to any bits they might have left out or misconstrued in their flash reading. This activity gave  me a sense of how they sense-make, what they perceive as relevant, and also how well they communicate, both orally and visually.

I know it was just a dream, but I do think these two activities would work, and not just in a classroom scenario but with any age group of learners and in either face to face or virtually in something like an online course.

Let me know in the comments what you think, even if it’s just to say


#Dali #facilitation #school #dreams #activities #subconscious #education #lessons #icebreakers #curriculum #amyburvall #learning

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