Activity: Keep the Question Going
This game involves students generating questions collaboratively. The exercise runs easily for about ten minutes and can go for a half hour or more with discussion. It is often a good exercise to use early in the year, as it helps students listen to each other and gets them thinking about what makes a question a good one.
The activity begins as a simple ‘energizer’ type exercise meant to get students listening to each other while keeping in mind the importance of questions in philosophical inquiry. It requires students to listen to each other and respond in a manner that constructs a coherent sentence – in this case a question.
- Make sure that students are arranged in such a way that they can more or less all see each other. A circle is ideal but, even if students are sitting in rows, it’s helpful if they can all turn so that they can keep an eye on their classmates as the exercise proceeds.
- The first student offers a word that will serve as the start of a question, and each student around the room then offers a word to continue the formation of a question. The goal of the exercise is for students to see how long they can keep a question going, one word after another, each word added by a subsequent student.
- You can stipulate certain kinds of questions for each round: “factual questions,” “historical questions,” “philosophical questions,” “scientific questions,” or any categories agreed beforehand with students.
- When a student thinks that the question has ended, he or she claps his or her hands, indicating that a new question is to begin. So, for instance, suppose the first student begins with the word, How, the next says does, the next life, the next begin. At this point, that last student might clap hands to indicate the question is finished. Or, if not, the following student could clap his or her hands to indicate the question is finished, or can choose to keep the question going, perhaps by adding the word on, to which a subsequent student might say Earth, and then clap.
- One guideline to communicate to students is that it’s not permitted to just add the word and to the end of what the previous student has said. Students should be discouraged from creating never-ending chains such as ‘How did life begin on Earth and Mars and Pluto and …?”
- It’s also important to emphasize that students should listen to each other and refrain from shouting out suggestions to their fellow students.
For kindergarten students, this activity can work well in smaller groups. Over time, a kindergarten class of 20 or 25 students will be able to formulate questions as a bigger group. With first or second grade students, after a few rounds of the activity, as the students become more adept at formulating clear questions, you might suggest that the next round aim at formulating some interesting and provocative questions that the class might like to explore together. At this point, the exercise becomes less about the length of the question than the quality of it.
At the conclusion of the activity, lead a reflective discussion about what has just happened. Ask the students what questions the game raises for them, and have them choose which of their questions to discuss.
You might ask the students what they think makes a given question more interesting or more ‘philosophical’ than another question. You might also say, for example: “Can we make any of these questions better by adding words, taking them away or changing them?”
This lesson plan, created by David Shapiro, is part of a series of lesson plans in Philosophy in Education: Questioning and Dialogue in Schools, by Jana Mohr Lone and Michael D. Burroughs (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).