Activities for Stage 1: Initiating and eliciting

If you'd like to suggest an activity to add to this list, please e-mail details to enquiringminds@futurelab.org.uk.

A-Zs
Beat the teacher
Collage and montage
Data race
Desert island objects
Future autobiography
Future forecasts – what if…?
Importance inventory/Traces of me
Local safari - thinking about place
Local safari - looking at place
Messy maps
Patchwork of knowledge
Random things about me
What they don’t teach you at school
Wonder wall (ideas wall)
5Whys

A-Zs

Students create a pictorial or written alphabet in which each letter is illustrated by something relevant to the topic – it could be the local area, the school, the year group, work, play, ‘growing up’ etc. It is important that each word or image represents something about the theme. Students may need some support initially to think beyond literal representations of the letters.

This activity involves discussion with others and can lead to interesting discussion and raise questions for further enquiry. It can reveal students’ values and perceptions about the place or topic for which they are creating the A-Z. This activity may be enhanced using digital cameras (if available).

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Beat the teacher

The teacher invites pupils to ask questions about a topic of their choosing. If the teacher is unable to answer the question it is recorded. In this way a ‘question bank’ is established.

This activity can allow teachers to demonstrate that we don’t have the answers for everything, and helps build a classroom culture where questioning and enquiry are commonplace. The questions generated can provide the basis for further study.

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Collage and montage

Collages and montages are a good way of helping students to build up a representation of a theme or topic. The teacher may provide students with pictures, newspaper cuttings, magazines, or ask students to collect their own materials.

It’s important to see the product as a starting point for enquiry. The key is to get students to share the thinking that went into making the collage, for instance what categories they chose. Collages can be the basis for whole-class discussion, and other students may be encouraged to ask questions about them. The montages can be used as a basis to discuss the students’ perceptions of the issue in comparison to other people’s points of view.

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Data race

This activity involves students finding quick answers to questions they may have. The teacher sets students off on a ‘race’ to find out key bits of information on a topic. The teacher may suggest sources, or allow students to choose how to find the information. A suitable time limit can be set.

The activity is a quick way of gathering and sharing information about a topic. It can lead to discussions about the nature of information and data sources, and the teacher can raise questions about the accuracy and sources of the information, and suggest other ways of approaching the topic.

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Desert island objects

The teacher gets the class to imagine what a desert island might be like and then quickly communicate ideas and visions to build up a shared picture. Students are told that they’re getting sent to this desert island and they may only take six items with them. They could be practical items to help them survive or they may be things that remind them of what they’re leaving behind. In small groups, they then discuss the reasons behind their choices. As a whole class they list all the items and discuss any similarities/differences.

The desert island concept is a good way to find out what is important to students and can lead to further questions for enquiry.

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Future autobiography

The teacher provides students with a set of pictures of older people and asks them to produce a biography for each of them. Students then produce a narrative of their own life story as if it were 2050, and they were 60 years old.

This activity can prompt reflection on the nature of social change and allows students to voice their own aspirations and ideas about the future. The discussion may raise questions that are worthy of further study.

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Future forecasts – what if…?

The teacher encourages students to produce ‘scenarios’ that predict how social or technological trends might influence people's behaviour in the future or what greater effect they might have on society. For example, what would happen if:

This activity allows students to explore open-ended questions and compare desirable, probable and possible futures. The forecasts may be used as a basis for research into actual predictions and to likely changes.

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Importance inventory/Traces of me

Students produce a collage which represents aspects of their lives and identities. These are presented on a display. These documents can be used to prompt discussion and reflection on the things that are important to students and why.

There may be common themes or ideas that students decide are important to investigate. For example, in one class we observed, students were puzzled as to why girls’ presentations contained many images of animals, whilst boys were dominated by football and bikes.

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Local safari - thinking about place

The teacher holds a group discussion about the local area. This may involve questions such as: Are there distinct zones? Has it got a certain character? What is the history of the area? Students then create ‘mental maps’ of the area – starting by placing their home in the middle and working out from there. They are encouraged to think about landmarks, key buildings, public spaces, areas of interest, personal connections, interesting bits, boring bits, and so on.

This activity is a good way to undertake an initial study of a place and to get a sense of students’ initial perceptions about their surroundings. These mental maps can then be shared verbally with the rest of the group or used to create a written/illustrated group or individual map. The discussion can prompt reflection on the issues that affect that area and may form the basis for further enquiry.

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Local safari - looking at place

The teacher takes students on a walk around the local area, encouraging them to collect artefacts, make rubbings, take digital photos and draw sketches to record the features that feel important in determining the character of the area. These could include structures, natural forms, landmarks, building materials, street furniture, traffic and people.

The teacher then gets the students to compare the mental map from the previous local safari activity with the reality and collected artefacts, and discuss the differences. The artefacts and photos can also be used to make a ‘messy map’ (see below). This activity provides an opportunity to move around and get outside the classroom. It can help students to notice things in their locality that might go otherwise unnoticed.

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Messy maps

Students are asked to produce a ‘messy map’ of a place or a topic, or an idea. The idea is to fill it with as much detail as possible – in the form of facts, impressions, poems, sketches, photos, and so on. It can be an ongoing map that students can contribute to over time.

Messy maps help to capture the real ‘texture’ of something – which is impossible to do in any one medium.

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Patchwork of knowledge

Students use the internet, books and other research methods to gather as much information they can find on a particular topic - this may include facts, images, quotes and video clips. At this stage pupils are encouraged to gather as much information as they can, rather then making any sense of it. They can then start to refine and focus on specific areas of the topic.

This activity is an opportunity to openly explore a subject before focusing on a particular question or area.

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Random things about me

This activity involves looking at different online blogs where people list things about themselves and their interests. These can be used to have a discussion about the sorts of things they include, and what is excluded. Students are invited to come up with their own lists along the lines of ’10 things about me’.

The activity can show students that everyone has something interesting to say about themselves and their life, and to prompt reflection on the groups’ choices. This may lead to ideas for further enquiry.

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What they don’t teach you at school

The teacher starts a conversation about what students learn at school and what they don’t. The students list all the compulsory subjects and ask questions such as: What is missing? What would be really useful? Why? Do students learn the same things that their parents learnt?

This activity can give students the chance to say what is important to them outside of school as well as in school, and may lead to attempts to produce their own preferred enquiry curriculum.

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Wonder wall (ideas wall)

This is a dedicated wall space (though it could be electronic) for pupils to add their questions as they arise. The teacher’s role is to create a classroom where students are encouraged to ask open questions. If it’s working well it offers students a chance to mull over things in their own time and a permanent space to ask questions as they arise. Not all the questions need to be capable of a short and quick answer.

The questions can be followed up and explored as part of the enquiry curriculum.

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5Whys

This is simple technique to get students asking questions. The aim is to ask ‘why’ questions in response to five consecutive answers. For example: Q: Why do you exercise? A: Because it's healthy. Q: Why is it healthy? A: Because it’s good for me. Q: Why is it good for me? And so on.

The technique can encourage people to examine and express the underlying reasons for their behaviour and attitudes. It promotes an enquiring stance and challenges students to examine their thinking and reasoning.

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