Thinking skills activities

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Breaking down a question

This group activity helps students be aware of the process of asking sub-questions to break down a difficult question. You will need reference books and/or web access, plus post-its.

A child asks 'How far is the moon?' and even if she is told the answer in a number, she will keep on asking the question differently ('Is it as far as Australia?' 'Would it take all day to get there?' 'Would a ladder ever stretch there?'), until she gets an answer that relates to something she knows. Introduce and discuss the relationships between primary and secondary questions.

As a whole group, brainstorm some big difficult questions. Write the questions on post-its. Pairs or small groups can choose one of these questions (if one of them thinks they could easily articulate the answer then they shouldn't choose it). Ask them to imagine that the question hides more, small, questions. Think of all the smaller questions that will help them answer the first big one and write those on post-its or paper strips. Cluster them as follows:

  1. Questions we already know the answer to
  2. Questions we can easily get the answer to (e.g. by looking it up or asking someone else)
  3. Questions we can work out the answer to (e.g. by doing a sum)
  4. Questions we can't answer easily (if you don't have any?in this cluster, can you think of one? Is your first question big enough?)

Spend some time finding the answers to the questions in clusters 1 to 3. Do these help you reach an answer to the big question? Or do you need now to tackle the questions in cluster 4? What is your strategy for dealing with this question?