Big Questions and How We Answer Them
I developed this activity a couple of years ago and often use it in the early part of the school year. I have found that it engages most students and leads to interesting conversations, often lasting 2-3 class sessions. Part of the activity is based on an exercise created by Matthew Lipman and Ann Gazzard in Getting Our Thoughts Together: Instructional Manual to Accompany Elfie, 2003.
The activity begins by grouping students into groups of three or four. Each student is handed a blank index card. Then each group is handed an index card on which is written one of the following questions:
After they’ve done this, ask the students who are standing why they decided that their answers were no longer true. Facilitate a brief discussion about this.
Then ask all the students to sit back down with their groups. Give each group another blank index card. Each student will then share with his or her group their answers to the question the group was given, and the group should decide on an answer with which they all agree. Then they should choose one student to be the group’s scribe, and that student will write the group’s answer(s) on the group’s index card, along with 2-3 reasons the group comes up with to support their answer.
The next part of the activity works best if the students can come together in one circle, with each group sitting together.
Start by asking one of the groups to read their question and answer, along with the reasons for their answer.
Then instruct the other students:
Ask the students who are not at all convinced why this is so. Then facilitate a brief discussion with the whole group about the question and the reasons for answering it in various ways.
Repeat this process with each group, spending time having a discussion about each of the questions. If there’s time and the students are engaged in these discussions, this can take two or three sessions.
Time permitting, it’s nice to end with a reflection question to which the students can respond in writing, in philosophy journals or just on paper, such as: