Creative problem solving with lateral thinking – A case study

Numerical and diagrammatic pattern problems are amongst the most common topics, in lateral thinking, to appear in school entry and scholarship tests. Such tests are used to assess a student’s non-verbal reasoning and problem solving skills and are a strong indicator of giftedness.

Previously, I introduced an innovative lateral thinking model – Explore, Inspire, Apply, Create. But how does it really work? Let me illustrate its mechanics using a case study.


Students are first given a pattern to explore, for example:

During this stage, students are given the opportunity to freely explore solutions to the problem, without guidance. The aim of this stage is to deduce and analyse students’ thinking processes, rather than focus on whether they are able to find the correct answer. Students are also encouraged to document their logic for further discussion.

After being given a set amount of time to explore the question, students have the opportunity to share their problem solving logic and reasoning, irrespective of whether they were able to identify the correct answer.


Next, students are inspired by a new perspective on the problem. Empowered by this unique thinking mechanism, students are encouraged to reapproach the problem from a different angle.

In the above example, most students focus on the individual digits, e.g. 1, 6, 2, 5. But what if we grouped these digits together? For instance, in the first row, instead of 1 and 6, we have the number 16; for the second row, instead of 2 and 5, we have 25. Now pattern becomes clear, the pattern changes in the sequence of square numbers from 4 to 8.

This new perspective on the question easily guides students to the correct answer. Evidently lateral thinking questions are not mentally challenging but, require creative thinking and innovation. Challenging students to be creative and inquisitive thinkers, lateral thinking questions involve viewing problems in new and intriguing light.


Students are then encouraged to apply their understanding of these lateral thinking techniques to new questions. From these questions, students learn numerous creative problem-solving methods and are then given structured exercises to solve without guidance.

The application stage of the lateral thinking model is not about memorisation, but rather about training students’ brains to think uniquely and with agility.


Most traditional learning structures stop here, but lateral thinking is about planting the seeds for innovation to grow. Inspiring students to be innovators, this stage of the lateral thinking model empowers students to be creators of their own. Given the opportunity to design their own diagrammatic problems for others to solve, students actively engage in a community learning and solidify their conceptual understanding of lateral thinking techniques.

This is a diagrammatic lateral thinking problem made by one of my 5th grade students. Can you solve this question?

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