Plant A Question

By Eve Pranis

Is it green? Is is bigger than a breadbox? The familiar classroom game 20 questions typically limits the questions to those that can be answered with either "yes" or "no." While these are valid questions, limiting responses to yes or no tends to discourage reflection, observation, and creative thinking. Imagine instead questions that challenge students to observe closely, compare and contrast, and think metaphorically. By focusing students on more open-ended questions, you can encourage careful observation, reflection, and imaginative thinking, and help them develop the awareness that different types of questions elicit different kinds of information.

For starters, try the following questioning exercise. Tape a card with the name of a type of plant on each student's back: cactus, daffodil, pumpkin, radish, oak tree, sunflower, for example. Have students mingle or work in small groups, asking one another questions consistent with the categories below, allowing two minutes per questioning category. Their charge is to gather information that will help them guess the name of their plants. For each category, give students some examples of questions to prompt their thinking, as noted below. Encourage them to consider questions and responses that inspire them to think about plants in new ways. Questions requiring only a yes or no response are not allowed.

Once identities have been discovered, invite students to reflect on their experiences. Which types of clues were most helpful? Which questions were hardest to answer? How did certain questions help them consider plants in new ways?

Another variation is to do this with real plants, by pairing individuals or small groups and having them take turns questioning and responding, while keeping a mystery plant, plant part, or plant product concealed.

Question Categories (feel free to create your own categories):

Round 1: Counting, Measuring, Describing Questions

Can you describe its smell, color, shape, origin? How many inches is its largest dimension? How many of these could you fit in a breadbox?

Round 2: Comparisons

How is it like an evergreen tree? How is it different than a tomato plant? What other plant is it shaped like?

Round 3: Actions and Predictions

How might a mother respond if she got one for Mother's Day? What would happen if we had one of these in the classroom? Would I likely eat part of this plant for dinner? for breakfast?

This activity was dapted from an exercise developed by Vermont educator Jimmy Karlan.

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