Wednesday, June 4, 2014

20 Questions: Was ist in der Tasche?

 Here's a quick activity I use to introduce a new vocabulary unit and to encourage creative thinking!

I'm sure you've played the game 20 questions.  The premise is simple - you have a person, movie, object, or whatever in mind.  The other person has to figure out who/what you're thinking about.  They're allowed to ask you up to 20 questions, but the catch is that you can only answer with a yes or no.

In this case, you have a bag.  The lovely orange bag to the left is one that a mentor teacher gave to me my first year teaching (yes, it has lasted this long!) when she introduced me to this activity.

Find an object related to whatever topic you're going to be discussing.  I usually use something that's related to a topic we're about to start, but it's an object that students already can identify.  Here are some examples for unit starters:

  • CD for Music
  • Mr Potato Head for Body Parts
  • Party Hat for Gifts/Birthdays or to introduce Piggeldy's Birthday Party
  • Toy Bus for Transportation
  • Stuffed Cat for Animals
  • Toy Apple for Food
  • Cards for Weekend Activities



It's also a good way to review vocabulary before midterms and finals, and can even be used to introduce a subset of a unit.  For example, I use a stuffed Wildschwein to introduce a reading and video we do on Wildschweine during our Animals unit.

If you start this with German 1 students, it's typically easy to explain the directions and goal of the activity (even completely in German).  The real trick is helping them figure out what to ask and how to ask it.  Help students as they start by giving examples of questions.  Good starting questions and hints:

  • Adjectives: Ist es (rund/gross/klein/rot/braun/schwer)?
  • Categories: Ist es (ein Tier/eine Schulsache/Kleidung/ein Spiel)?
  • Actions: Kann man es (essen/tragen/fahren)?
  • Location: Findet man es (zur Schule/zu Hause/im Kaufhaus)?
  • Ist es normalerweise im Klassenzimmer? (I've put enough objects and toys from my classroom in the bag over time that students immediately get suspicious and start looking around for missing items.  Because of my pig collection, the first question is almost always, "Ist es ein Schwein?")

Once students do the activity a few times, they're better at narrowing down the category - though sometimes a class will hit a brick wall and you may have to subtly give clues to get them back in the right direction.

As students ask their questions, I keep track of the questions by putting a tally on the board.  Sometimes I'll tease students that they don't get to see the object if they get through all twenty without figuring it out - they always want to know what it is! - but revealing the object and discussing it is important to segue into the next part of your lesson.  If you're introducing a new unit, for example food, you can then move on to building a word web as a class, listing words they already know related to the topic.  If you're introducing a new facet of a current unit, then discuss what they already know about the object in question.

One last note: This activity is in some ways similar to Black Stories, though with some obvious differences (question limit, different topic, range of vocabulary needed).  Students in general, I find, have difficulty with creative thinking.   Coming up with questions is initially difficult for them when they're first introduced to either activity, and starting lower levels with the occasional "Was ist in der Tasche?" helps them stretch their creative muscles and build them up to Black Stories in German 3 and 4.

- Frau Leonard

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