As educator at the Early American Museum in central Illinois, I present to many school field trips every year. Most of the students I see are through 5* graders, with few occasions to enjoy the special group of young people known as “junior high” students. So, when the opportunity to spend a full day at a middle school came up, I was really excited! The educational content was to be an extension of an elementary program I often do, easily adapted to this older group with several minor modifications. My major dilemma was how to grab their attention right off the starting block.
The program would center around the exploration of several historic artifacts and culminate in artifact-based historic fiction stories. I settled upon the common “20 Questions” game as my opening, which worked magic on these 8th graders.
After a brief self-introduction, I went over the rules of the game, familiar to most people. (1) The class asks 20 questions answerable with “yes” or “no.” (2) “Is it a . . .?” questions may not be asked. (3) Even if you identify the object, you are still limited to yes/no questions.
An acceptable question would be, “Would a woman use this in the kitchen?” or “Is this all the parts?” Unacceptable questions are “What kind of business uses it?” or “Is it a veggie cutter?” A tabulator came to the board, and we began.
As I slowly walked up and down aisles, prompting the first question, several students doodled in boredom. Watching this behavior gradually, but rather quickly, disappear was quite gratifying! Soon, the first hand went up, others following sporadically at first, picking up momentum as a couple of “revered” students participated. Within a very few minutes, every single boy and girl was on task
I had chosen an artifact that I assumed, correctly, none of them had any direct knowledge of I presented them with a challenge that they were not only quick to accept, but determined to win. Done as a class, all could participate in the solving without fear of peer ridicule. I acknowledged their intelligence, while simultaneously furthering their thinking/ problem solving/language skills and “turning them on” to history.
I presented the identical 50- minute program to 5 rotating classes. This “20 Questions” activity worked successfully every time. After getting students involved in a fun and nonthreatening manner, the remainder of each session continued with almost as much participation.
This age-old game is easily tailored to any age group, discipline, environment, etc. It worked like a charm, and is one of my greatest “mini success stories.” Have fun using it.
Sandy Osbourne, Educator, Early American Museum, Mahomet, IL
Osbourne, Sandy, “It Works for Me…Sharing Successful Techniques and Ideas.,” The Docent Educator 12.1 (Autumn 2002): 13.