For years I’ve had language students on my caseload who have a “will ask questions” goal. For instruction and practice, I’ve used commercial games like “Guess Who?” and “Guess Where?,” and I’ve made up my own versions of guessing games such as ” 20 Questions” and “what’s in the box?” I find I often have to preface this with lots of practice in describing to build up semantic knowledge and a mindset that goes well beyond blindly asking “is it a horse?” on their first turn, without first establishing that it is a large animal with a mane and tail that lives on a farm. Sara Smith’s Expanding Expression Tool is helpful in asking and answering “what” and “where” questions, but some students still need a model of asking yes/no (“Does it have—?”) questions to elicit details and come up with a logical answer, which also works on a drawing conclusions goal. (Don’t you love it when you can work on 2 goals in a single activity?!)
I recently discovered a new toy and app that model exactly what my students need to practice! The Magic Jinn toy is a plastic “creature that reads your mind.” The alien-looking creature comes in two versions: animals and food. It asks questions about the animal or food you have in mind, then guesses the object with pretty amazing accuracy. It is available from Amazon for under $15.00. The Magic Jinn app, available for iPad and Android, comes in animals and countries versions, and is free. Once they have played with this a while, they start to learn the kinds of questions they need to ask to figure out the mystery item. At that point, we can put the toy or app away, as the students are ready to use the question patterns they learned to successfully play Guess Who?, Twenty Questions, and similar guessing games.
Of course, auditory memory is often weak in these students, so we address a third goal (yes! 3 goals in one activity!): taking notes. Each time they ask a question, they write the answer under “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.” This helps them to organize and recall the information they have gathered so they can put it together to make an educated guess. Here’s a sample of the organizer I use for this.
I should add that, even though I designed this lesson for some of my language students, my artic and fluency kiddos enjoy it, too!