Personalizing Learning Idea #73: Questions in the Shadows

Here is Personalizing Learning Activity #73: The Questions in the Shadows.  I designed this open-ended critical reflection activity to use with intermediate students (Grade 5-9), but I could see using this with any grade (even grade 2 or grade 12) if the explanations were adapted and there were appropriate levels of support.  I would love to hear how this goes with your students or how you altered the lesson to suit your group.     

PURPOSE: Students will explore and share some questions that have been on their minds.  Students will think about the nature and process of questioning.

THEME(S): Questioning, Metacognition, Critical Thinking, Classical Literature*

PRODUCT OF LEARNING: A personal silhouette, framed by the thinker’s own questions.


(1.) Read to the students Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.*

(2.) Discuss the meaning of the shadows on the cave wall.*

(3.) Organize students to students create and present their own dramatizations of the Allegory of the Cave.*

(4.) Have students work together using an overhead projector to trace outlines of their profiles on black construction paper.  They can cut the silhouettes out and mount on coloured paper.

(5.) Ask students to think about what questions are written in the shadows of their minds.  During a quiet time, or perhaps with relaxing music, invite students to transcribe around their silhouettes any of their own questions as they think of them.  This can be a free-flowing stream of consciousness writing activity and/or students may want to come prepared with questions they have been pondering lately. Ask student to think about what happens in their minds as a question forms.

(6.) Using the same coloured paper as the background, cut out a question mark and glue on the silhouette–it creates a kind of “key hole”.  This can be the space the student writes a question of key and central importance according to him or her–perhaps it is a question so important that it is makes itself transparent in the identity of the student.  It is a defining question.

*These optional steps help set the stage for deep thinking.

VARIATION:  With many activities, I believe it is important to present the main idea and learning goals and then ask if there are any other ways students would like to represent there learning.  It’s not important for a teacher to have a bulletin board of artwork that looks the same–it is important that students can freely and creatively interact with ideas and express themselves their way.  Instead of the above, perhaps a student will want to make a shadow puppet show on the theme of deep questions.  Or, maybe another will draw a comic, make a movie, or a write a song.

FOLLOW-UP & EXTENSIONS: Ask students to reflect on and discuss…

(a.) Which are your favourite questions and why? Looking at your work, are there certain types of questions or categories that you notice?

(b.) What is the meaning of your artwork: What does it represent? How is this represented?

(c.) ADVANCED: How could you explain the connection between your artwork and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?

(d.) MORE ADVANCED: How is a person “framed” by the questions they ask?  What could this mean?  How does the way we frame questions restrict or open up possibilities of types of answers.  (Consider exploring and connecting to George Lakoff’s notions of framing in language and metaphor.)

HOW THIS ACTIVITY IS A PART OF PERSONALIZING LEARNING:  Students are invited to use their intrapersonal intelligence, to be introspective and to analyze the content of their own minds.  This is a valuable metacognitive task in and of itself, and students may also find turning focus inward in this way to be personally validating.  Discussing and sharing with others in this personal way within the context of a safe classroom atmosphere can build a community where individual ideas are valued.  This is a great activity to begin the school year with as it lets the teacher get to know what questions matter to students and therefore helps to better personalize choices about units of study.

One thought on “Personalizing Learning Idea #73: Questions in the Shadows

  1. Pingback: Self-Regulation: The Other 21st Century Skills | User Generated Education

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