The 4 Cs: Creativity

Creativity is core to the 4 Cs* and to 21st-century skills. MENC member Donna Zawatski believes in “original work, independent learning, cooperative learning experiences, and experimentation. Composing is an excellent activity to do just that. It also gives children a chance to incorporate what they already know to create something new.”

“Providing experiences from Kindergarten on that are spiral in nature will help students build on their composing chops.” She recommends

Improvising at every grade level.

Students can

  • Sing an improvised answer to a question
  • Create sound for characters in a story book
  • Compose a soundtrack for a poem they wrote
  • Create an introduction or coda for an Orff composition
  • Decide on the form for an existing composition

“Create a culture for composing,” Zawatski says. “Nurture it, and make it an everyday part of music.”

Creating a composing unit.

Zawatski developed a composing unit for her fourth grade based on use of expressive qualities. Students

  • Divide themselves into groups
  • Choose a theme, event, or idea
  • Compose and name their piece (some of Zawatski’s favorite names include “VERY BAD Grades,” Tyedie Weather,” “Trash Mountain,” and “Friday the 13th”)

“I am always surprised at the complex nature of their compositions,” Zawatski says.

Students perform their compositions while Zawatski records them. Later, she asks students to match the name of the piece to the performance. “You would be surprised how many compositions we were able to match up with their titles,” she said.

More suggestions

  • Keep rules to a minimum. For example, Zawatski doesn’t limit the number of instruments students could use but suggests that “less is sometimes more.”
  • Teach children to be pleased with their own efforts. She listens eagerly when students show her what they’ve created, asks questions, and shows them their ideas are valuable.
  • Encourage the art of play. In formal situations, children often suppress their imagination and fantasies. Playing is creating.
  • Allow students to explore.
  • Respect children’s unusual ideas and solutions. Children often see solutions that adults miss.
  • Model your creativity. Students learn by watching you, and you validate the importance of creating.
  • Accept students’ compositions and let them know that the music room is a safe place to be. Promote ways students can give positive feedback rather than criticism. Provide chances for children to learn, think, and discover without the threat of constant evaluation.
  • Teach children to view failure as an opportunity to learn. Give students multiple opportunities to perform, reflect, and make adjustments.

Adapted from “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” by Donna Zawatski, Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, Number 3. Used with permission.

* Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication


Donna Zawatski teaches teach K-5 general music at Thomas Metcalf Lab School on the Illinois State University campus in Normal, Illinois. She is the JEM (Junior High/Elementary Music) VP for the Illinois MEA.

—Linda C. Brown, August 10, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (