(Developed for English
101 Academic Writing)
Students share their
research topics and generate questions designed to help each other develop
a focus for the research paper. After completing this activity, students
have made significant progress along the research path and have a renewed
interest in their topics, bolstered by their classmates' interest and
enthusiasm. Students keep the 20 Questions papers generated by this activity
in their research logs (click here to read about the research log). In
some cases, students discover that the 20 Questions paper, with revision,
is a rough draft of a paper outline! In other cases, students discover
that one fascinating question on the paper, generated by a classmate,
may end up as a focused, primary research question (and later a thesis)
for their papers.
While working on this
activity, students will
-- identify meaningful,
engaging research questions
-- narrow and/or develop topic ideas
-- identify patterns of inquiry that may help organize the paper
-- understand writing as a discovery process
-- develop an understanding of the importance of audience for the writer
-- appreciate the power of collaborative work
-- develop an interest in their classmates' research projects
-- become part of a learning community
top of activity
paper, pencils, pens
topics (students should have a rough idea of a general topic they are
interested in researching)
Give your students
the following directions, one step at at time:
1. Write your research topic at the top of a piece of paper. (At this
point, students have only a rough idea of the topic they will be researching.)
2. Pass your paper to the student sitting to your right.
3. Read the paper you've just received (from the person on your left)
and write down a question about your classmate's topic on you classmate's
4. Pass your classmate's paper on to the student sitting on your right.
5. Repeat this process until the papers have made their way around the
room, and you have your own paper back in your hands.
* Remind students
that they should read all of the questions generated by their "neighbors"
before adding their own questions to a paper. This helps them avoid duplication
but also, more importantly, helps them come up with their own meaningful
* Remind students to avoid questions that have "yes/no" answers.
* Join the fun! Become part of the "chain" by adding your own
questions to the student papers. This gives you the opportunity to model
appropriate questions and to open up lines of inquiry that may steer students
toward an engaging research project.
* Keep the atmosphere in the room relaxed. This is a fun activity! Students
might need to take stretch breaks during the activity. (Depending on the
number of students in the class, this activity may take from thirty minutes
to an hour to complete.) In addition, they should be free to move around
the room, helping out their classmates if papers begin to pile up in one
area of the room. Appropriate music will help create a relaxed atmosphere.
* Make sure everyone ends up with a solid group of questions. If there
are any weak papers, facilitate a class brainstorming session to generate
* Now that students are interested in their classmates' projects (and
they will be!), suggest that they help each other by sharing resources
and forming study groups.
When students have
their own papers back, give them a few minutes to read through the questions.
Then begin a group discussion of the process and results.
Ask how many students
ended up with at least one great question about their topic. Then find
out how many students ended up with two great questions, with three, and
so on. Then ask for volunteers to discuss their questions and how the
questions have expanded their thinking about their topics.
For homework, each
student answers the following questions (adapted from Stephen Brookfield’s
“Classroom Critical Incident Questionnaire” – Adult Learning: An Overview,
by Stephen Brookfield)
1. At what moment during this project did you feel most engaged with what
2. At what moment did you feel most distanced?
3. What about this activity surprised you the most?
Lisa designed the
20 Questions Activity guided by the three components of our theoretical
- the unique learner
- the learning-centered
- the construction
-- the unique learner -
This activity gets students
talking to each other about their projects. The activity was designed
with the unique learners' MI (multiple intelligences) strengths/challenges
in mind. The process is especially rewarding for students with interpersonal,
intrapersonal, and verbal/linguistic strengths. In addition, movement
and music are built into the activity. I've noticed students who stay
in one spot during the entire activity, content to sit and go through
the process methodically, writing down question after question, not
interacting with anyone unless it's absolutely necessary. Other students
bounce around the room, talking, checking out the progress of the "paper
chain" passing papers to students who need them, and, at the same
time, developing and writing excellent questions for their classmates'
papers. Allowing students to work "their own way" gives them
the opportunity to use their individual strengths.
-- the environment-
This activity creates
a serious, yet light-hearted and non-threatening atmosphere in the classroom.
It's fun! The music and movement help students relax. Also, students
often write a few humorous questions on the papers, resulting in chuckles
as the paper passes through each student's hands and building anticipation
as each student waits his or her turn to read that particular paper.
This creates a wonderful opportunity for the instructor to point out
how humor can help create an environment that encourages creativity.
This activity is usually done early in the semester, when students may
be anxious about interacting with their peers and about their research
projects. The process of playing this "20 questions" game
helps them get to know their classmates. They are delighted to find
that their classmates are such interesting people! Often, when students
leave this class session, they are still talking about topics, offering
to help each other with resources. This sets the tone for the entire
semester; students know this will be a challenging yet collaborative,
-- the construction of individual
The research paper
is an artificial, meaningless requirement of the English Department; that
is, unless we can help students construct individual meaning as they develop
This activity helps move them from thinking about a general topic area
(one they're usually not really very interested in even though they have
chosen their own topics) to thinking about that same topic (or a new one)
with the help of twenty or more other viewpoints/personalities/frames
of reference. They begin to realize that their paper will have an audience
(their fellow students and the academic community). They realize that
their classmates do want answers to the questions they've written on the
20 Questions papers; this research paper they must write will answer questions
of interest to their peers! In addition, the dialogue started by the 20
questions activity continues outside of the English classroom, helping
students make connections to their own prior knowledge, to other students'
research projects, to their other courses, and to the world outside of
the college classroom. Furthermore, the reflection activities are designed
to help students construct meaning both from the process of the activity
and from the results. The reflection activities encourage metacognition.
here to email Lisa questions, comments, and suggestions.
here to join our email discussion group!
here to read more about our model.