Last month I wrote a post about some of my rediscovered favourite sites (which I’ve saved as bookmarks) in which I included Oxplore and Wonderopolis, two of my all-time favourite sites to use for student research projects and debates. I promised the amazing Naomi Epstein to write a longer post with some of the ways I’ve used both sites, so here is my list of ideas on how they can be used as a starting point for class discussions and follow-up activities. Naomi has written a wonderful post with an attached worksheet of suggested activities which you can find here.
- Start before the question/ Why yes/no? : Once students are presented with a question, ask them to brainstorm ideas on why people would go for one option or the other. For instance, when working on the question “Can money buy happiness?”, ask students to think of a number of reasons why people might think that money can buy happiness and cannot buy happiness respectively. This can help them develop their critical thinking skills by considering both sides of an issue before they are introduced to the resources provided for each debate.
- Experiment with it: There are many ways that students can conduct their own experiments and be involved in the research aspect of the questions, the most practical one possibly being to create their own quizzes and trivia similar to the ones following most Big Questions which test learners’ understanding and knowledge of the topic.
- Pecha Kucha the topic: As an initial activity to most topics and debates introduced, I ask learners to create a short presentation of 6 slides only that should last about two minutes, similar to the Pecha Kucha presentation format where presentations contain 20 slides with each slide lasting for 20 seconds (for great Pecha Kucha ideas check out ELT-Cation’s amazing post here). Those presentations feature pictures only and similar audiovisual material that best summarize how learners feel about the topic. These first, shorter presentations are then followed by longer ones which can take any format, from videos to posters to infographics using tools such as Canva or Animoto.
- Reflecting and researching further: With most questions I’ve used in class, I asked students to complete an adapted KWL chart (What I already know about the topic, What I’ve always wanted to know, What I’d like to learn more about) which they returned to every time they discovered a new point about their topic or found more evidence about the points they already knew about. This was followed by a short reflection task in which students were asked how the topic helped them (or not) understand the debate better and what they found most interesting/surprising etc. about it.
- Key takeaways: At the end of every debate, I ask learners to create a short summary of the most important points learned from the resources provided for each debate, particularly the articles following each topic. Once again the choice of summary type can vary from a written summary to an animated presentation.
- What’s missing?: As an extension to the previous task, I ask learners to expand on either what they would like to find out more about or which aspect of the topic they feel the existing resources haven’t provided them with enough information about.
- Summarize your points using target vocabulary: This is particularly helpful with the articles following each question on Wonderopolis as they contain key vocabulary, but it could also be a nice activity for learners working on Oxplore’s topics. I usually create a short vocabulary bank by pre-selecting the words learners should include in their answer and asking them to choose an additional number of words (usually around 10) to further add to their text. The same activity can be adapted as a writing task (often an argumentative essay one) following the same idea of using topic vocabulary in their texts.
- Create a new question: This could be related to the existing question, the broader topic/field the question refers to or it could be a question on an entirely new topic. In the case of higher-level students working on Oxplore topics, students are asked to present their question along with 2 sources supporting each point and the reasons why there are people for and against the question they have created.