What do solar powered flashlights, battery powered battery chargers and subway chin rests have in common? They are useful and useless at the same time. They are ‘unuseless’. They are Chindogu. Chindogu is the Japanese “art” of creating unuseless inventions, but it’s also a wonderful means of exercising creativity, and working out with divergent thinking. Below is a description of a workshop I did with Chindogu. My students did this as a creative exercise, but you can just imagine the language components you could work with in a conversational setting. It also could be used as an icebreaker for, or a fun activiy whenever you want to break away from the routine humdrum. Yes, it’s silly, but useful, too…unuseless! By the way, the now famous selfie stick started life as a chindogu. What was once unuseless is now indispensible.
Before you try this workshop, give yourself some background information about Chindogu. Here’s a fantastic site devoted strictly to Chindogu. Now, I did this activity to help students work on their divergent thinking skills, which may or may not be of interest to you. In the case that it is, here’s a web site that explains divergent thinking. No time to read a website? Well, divergent thinking is related to being creative. Creativity, according to Sir Kenneth Robinson “as the process of having original ideas that have value” (check out this RSA video). The emphasis here is on the value of an idea…meaning it’s real worth to someone. Divergent thinking involves the generation of ideas with no realistic or logical limitations. Unlike brainstorming, which involves more convergent or linear thought, divergent thinking requires the involvement of more creative processes. Nothing, not dimensions, nor any variation from an item’s original use is forbidden in divergent thinking.
Now, helping students re-learn creativity skills may not be your goal. This workshop may be used for other skills: persuasive speaking skills, use of subjunctive mood, vocabulary building and general conversation and listening skills. The entire workshop took two hours, but may be extended or shortened depending on your needs. It was used with advanced students but may also be used at basic levels.
You may use my material as long you give me credit and don’t sell it…
Setting: Classroom, or better yet, an alternative informal site.
Materials: Put various office supplies, pen,post-it’s, nametags (See photo) for each person in an envelope or small container. I included special instructions (here’s a PDF)in the envelope. The students really love the mystery of it all. Check out the photo.
Website: My students used smartphones to access the website via QR code. The website explains as well what the students must do. You may use my website for your activity, or you can create your own. I used Google sites. Scan the barcode or click on it to see the site.
Once there, you or your students can follow the steps.
So, what will your students invent with the objects in the envelope? Not much. These things were designed to be used to construct other things. You may wish to vary what you make available to them. On the website, students are told they can use anything except for certain commonly available items on campus.
Enjoy the activity, and please let me know what you did differently.
PDF of Activity