Thursday, July 5, 2012

What matters most? - Activities for critical thinking about values and opinions (Part 2 of 3)

Pretty heavy for a party game.

Fun, free and flexible ways to get kids thinking

This post is the second of a series about fun critical thinking activities and class presentation games based on my game What's It To Ya?.  In the first article I address the value of the game as a tool for encouraging important discussion.  The final article focuses on the key lessons I have learned from playing the game over the years.

For this post I'll list several practical tips and activities that will make the game useful in a variety learning of environments.

Most of these activities are completely free, assuming you have access to some technology.  I believe in the value of this learning activity so much that I'm still giving away copies of the early edition game, so see this post if you want one.  In other cases you might have to buy notecards or some sheets of cardstock.  

Speaking of editions of the game, for purposes of these activities the games What’s It To Ya? and Oh, Really! are identical and will be referred to interchangeably depending on the resource or activity being addressed. 

Since this is a lengthy post compared to most on my blog, here's a summary of the contents:
  • Some objectives for the learning activities
  • Examples of how the game has been used
  • An overview of the game
  • How to make or find resources for the activities
  • Selecting the items
  • The critical thinking activities

Some objectives for the learning activities

  • Practice thinking about one’s own values
  • Practice expressing one’s values and justifications for them
  • Listening to and respecting the values of others
  • Considering and discussing differing opinions and the importance of such exchanges

Examples of how the game has been used

  • I use the game frequently as a fun intro to lessons. In a class for career planning and life goals it provided a great introduction to examining one’s priorities.
  • One teacher in a church setting created his own cards based on occupations. The children discussed the relative importance of the jobs and the teacher made the point that “what’s more important to society?” was a different question than “which occupation would I like to have?”
  • A friend’s wife used the game to kick off her presentation during a business meeting. It went over so well that she bought copies as Christmas gifts for the managers.
  • A college professor used the game in class in ways like the examples below, but he also would leave five random item cards on his desk. Students and faculty members would rank them as an exercise for discussion.
  • A camp counselor made a pack of homemade cards as an emergency filler activity to provide a quick distraction for campers who were not getting along. The cards are now a regular tool in her arsenal of camp activities.
  • A seminary student told me that in educational and social settings he uses the game to open the door to discussion on topics that otherwise bring up walls. He finds people are more willing to talk about political or social issues when they come up in a game rather than just in conversation.

An overview of the game

The basic idea of What’s It To Ya? is that five items are presented and participants will rank them in order from most important to least important. Different ways of playing or using this central ranking activity will require the participants to consider this question of importance from their point of view or some other individual’s perspective. Sometimes the goal will be to match the majority opinion of the group.

Watch this video to see the recommended way to play the game using cards. Other ways to use the cards are detailed below.

How to make or find resources for the activities

You can make a deck of cards to use for this game and the activities below. Just write appropriate words on a note card. If you want nicer cards or if you just need some examples to see what’s on the actual cards, here’s a Google Drawing with 12 sample cards. You can edit the words on those cards if you have a Google Account. Print the file on a sheet of cardstock and cut the cards out to make your own deck.

Some people have said they play using cards from Apples to Apples.

And I recently created this randomizer which draws five item cards.  A teacher or students can use the randomizer in conjunction with any of the activities on this page.  

If you’re running the activity with a group consider how you’ll present the items to the participants. When I was a teacher in the classroom I would just draw the cards randomly from the deck and write the words on a whiteboard.

But if you have access to more technology, consider using some of the virtual presentation tools that I've created. You can use the generic Oh, Really! flipchart made for ActivInspire software (and you can download a free version of that software here) or you can use this template made from a Google Presentation.

Selecting the items

As explained in the next section, there are several ways to use the cards for the activity. No matter which way you use them, you or the participants will select five of them. Here are some options that should provide the focus or fun that you're looking for in any activity.

If you are looking for a specific discussion or point to come out of the activity you can can simply create the lists of five items ahead of time. Read the other resources on this blog or watch the video on how to play. You’ll see most of my classroom activities at Promethean Planet are done this way.

Alternatively, you can have a semi-random selection process. This is how I would do it in my lessons.  I pulled out about 30 cards that would relate to life goals to make a smaller deck for class. Or you could make a small deck of cards yourself that will best encourage the discussion you want. The participants randomly draw five items from that limited pool.

One last thought worth mentioning is that you can frame the What matters most? question in context. I never do this when playing as a party game because half the fun is finding out how people naturally frame it. In a lesson, though, it can sharpen the focus. For example, in the U.S. Government activity I add the additional criteria of “Traits of a Citizen”. It gives a background to the ranking process and it can sharpen the possible discussion or debate that will follow.

One word of caution on using limited sets of cards or in providing a context for the rankings: Discussion will not result if it feels like there's just one right answer in the rankings.  Leave room for personal opinion.

The critical thinking activities

These fun but deep activities can easily be adapted for the classroom, youth groups, business meetings or homeschool lessons. Maybe they can just provide a fun thinking game for the kids during summer vacation.

Just play the game as written in the rules.
The partnership game is usually the best out of the box. Discussion or activities like the additional ones below can take place before or after everyone plays the regular game.

Keep in mind if you get either edition of the packaged game it has enough cards for eight players. If you make your own ranking cards you can stretch this number.

Again, you can use this video to learn how to play or to teach it to the group.

Use five item cards for group discussion.
For this activity list the items that are selected (or pre-selected) so everyone can see them. Have all participants write down the way they'd rank the items in order of importance. When they’re done, they share their rankings with the group and trends or interesting rankings (Coffee more important than Family?) that stand out from the rest can be discussed as necessary for the lesson.

With large groups it is best to use some sort of response system such as ActivExpression, ActiVotes or an online tool like Socrative.

See my Oh, Really! activities at Promethean Planet for examples of how this might look.

Predict the rankings of one person.
Like the What's It to ____? variation printed in the original game rules, have one person draw five items and rank them how he or she wants. At the same time the other participants try to guess how that person will rank them. When everyone is done, have the person reveal his or her rankings and the rationale behind them. This is not necessarily for points or competition, but it is a fun way to get to know a group and have some discussion.

Explain personal rankings.
Each person writes down how they would rank five given items. They then take turns explaining the order they chose and why. If it would take too long to explain all rankings, they at least have to explain their choices for the first and last items on the list. An interesting question in this case would be whether anyone wanted to change their rankings after hearing someone else’s explanation.

Here’s a video I made a few years ago that shows how we did this with random people. You can see the range of serious and silly reactions that come out depending on the items and social setting that we chose.

Make a prompt for a critical thinking writing activity.
First (without discussion), all participants must rank the given items and explain their decisions in writing. This could be a warm-up or lesson closer. It also would work well as an online discussion in Blackboard or sme other discussion forum.

The goal is to develop clear writing based on clear thinking, but if you want continued discussion you might have them share interesting thoughts or tricky rankings that they encountered while working through this.

Update 8/13/2012:  I also created a computer version of the game. You can play it here.

So there you have them.  Try some or several of these out with your group and I'm sure you'll see they are well received and thought provoking.  If you do find them useful or if you think of other interesting changes I would love to hear from you!  Please comment below or contact me by email.

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