In an old blog post I wrote about inquiry provocations and listed 12 possible ways of engaging students in exploring different topics or concepts. I encourage you to read it to get a better idea of how they can be used.

I am updating this list with examples from M (Mathematics), L (Literacy) and S (Social Studies). Before sharing the list I have a few notes to make:

  1. You need effective alignment between the provocation you select and the content, skill, and purpose you intend your students understand and develop. Do not use a provocation just for the sake of “engagement and fun” – ensure that it actually enables students to think deeper, to make broader connections, to see patterns, and to express viewpoints that are more sophisticated than before. *If you want a longer explanation of this, please see my post on Surface vs. Deep Inquiry.
  2. You need to adapt each provocation according to the age group you teach. For instance, under Mathematics – MUSIC provocation – young students can be prompted to notice patterns and symmetry, older ones can notice fractions, and upper elementary students can already manipulate transpositions and algebraic functions (both of which are used in music).
  3. Some provocations are naturally more effective in certain subjects, when exploring certain concepts or in developing certain skills. Make sure that you anticipate this and plan them accordingly. For instance, in Mathematics I prefer to use probing questions, challenges, and manipulatives. I also plan whether I want to focus more on the concept itself (say, negative numbers) or on the relationships between a concept and other math strands (say, geometry and measurement).
  4. Provocations are given not only at the beginning of a concept exploration – they need to be spread out across the entire series of lessons. Students need to engage deeper with the content, see further links between similar ideas, and investigate the concept in different ways.
  5. Provocations should be done in tandem with other strategies and routines – in and by themselves they are *not* conducive to thinking. For instance, under Social Studies – ARTIFACTS provocation – you need to have another routine ready to be applied (it can be I See – I Think- I Wonder, or Expert Groups or Question Stems ready on the tables where the artifacts are placed, e.g. What do you think this is used for? How can you connect with your prior learning? etc.). Visible Thinking Routines (from Harvard) is the best start if you don’t know other strategies.
  6. Provocations can be extremely simple (see my example below for Number). You need not come up with complex ideas or hard to find materials – just put some thought into your content. You can simply turn some of your content ideas into questions or debates like I did. What is essential is the depth of thinking involved, the exchange of ideas, the clarification of misconceptions through dialogue etc. Avoid at all costs provocations that apparently “engage” students but have no connection to the skill you want them to develop.
  7. Lastly, the best way to create good provocations is…collaborative. Sit down with the teachers in your department/subject and work out ideas together – you will be amazed how refreshing it is to view the content of your subject through different perspectives and how productive it can be. Add your ideas in a Google Document and keep adding and refining. *I created the list below by myself so it is not the best it could be but it is a springboard for your better ideas.

*CLICK on each picture to enlarge and see the text better.