Student talk: Kill the Question

Don't you just love it when you find an activity that goes way beyond your expectations?  When you take a risk and the end result is incredible?

This term, a student talk activity has done just that.

Kill the Question is simply a discussion activity. On paper it's nothing more than that.

How it works:

The activity itself is based on CSI and the idea is that students gather evidence to "kill" or in some cases "resurrect" the question.  You can see from the above, we "killed" to ideas: "the only truth is knowing you know nothing", and "freedom is a redundant idea".

  1. Create the outline of your 'dead body' on paper (I used black lining paper) but any will do.
  2. Write your statement or question inside the body.
  3. Place students into groups or pairs.
  4. Then allocate each pair or group an area of evidence to collate.
    The above example was part of an ELA/Social Studies unit on Philosophy - so on this occasion, each pair was allocated a different philosopher or philosophical movement to work with.
  5. Give each pair or group a set of colored evidence cards, they then note every piece of evidence for or against this idea on a card.
  6. Once the groups have had enough time to collect all their evidence, place it around the body.
  7. As a class, debate all the evidence presented. Questioning and challenging one another as you go and then decide whether to 'kill' or 'keep' the question or idea at hand.

The debate generated by this activity was: specific and detailed (citing evidence and ideas in more detail than I usually see) yet it was also wide-ranging and all embracing.

I felt afterwards that we hadn't missed a thing. We had explored everything, looked at this issue from every conceivable angle and the decision we made, in the end, wasn't instinctive, but balanced and thoughtful.

Never one to underplay a good thing when I see it,  I immediately re-used this activity with a Literature class looking at A Streetcar Named Desire.  The class were given an exam question this time and the groups were given a mix of scenes from the play, characters and critical perspectives to provide evidence from. 

The result was even better. 

It was then that I realised I wanted to try this activity with my classes lower down the school.

As a speaking and listening activity, this could be very useful - think of the connections that students could make - links to themes, character and setting, links to context, links to other texts and writers.

With my year 9 students, studying Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale, we took the bold step of using chalk on the carpet in my classroom.  Note - it did come off eventually, but only I after I scrubbed it...

The idea we killed this time was Malcolm X's quote: "Nobody can give you freedom; nobody can give you equality or justice.  If you are a man, you take it."

To begin I allowed students to write their "first response" to this idea on the carpet in chalk (another learning point for me here - don't even bother trying to discourage year 9 boys from making your dead body anatomically correct - you are wasting your breath).  

I was pleased and surprised that I got a full range of responses, not just what they thought I wanted to hear, but what they really thought.

After this, I put students into small groups and gave them each a non-fiction text that in some way added evidence to the idea.  I had in-depth articles on topics related to the novels: the science of the murder gene; nature vs nurture; on dictators and the world history of overthrowing a government.  

Students worked together reading their texts, summarising and then selecting evidence to support or oppose Malcolm X's idea.   Their evidence was placed on different colour cards and placed around the body.  We began to discuss it.

Finally, I have each student some green cards, I asked them to find evidence from either of the texts we were studying or from the contextual evidence we had learned about Golding and Takami.

Again, we then together looked at each piece of evidence.  As a class we weighed it against our own thinking, what we felt to be true and we created a collection we were happy with.

This collection then became the basis for an essay.  Most students wrote with a higher level of sophistication and maturity than in previous essays and the best thing, the very best thing, none of the ideas were mine.  Nothing taught from the front. Nothing spoon fed.

Let's keep giving our kids the freedom to think in our classrooms!

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