One of my favorite open-ended, creative activities is Lunar Survival Skills. It’s highly flexible in terms of age (use with kinders or high schoolers) and content (I’ve seen teachers connect it to everything: biomes, westward expansion, narrative writing, debates, discussion skills, and so on).
Read the details here, but the general idea is that students (stuck on the moon) must group 15 items into three groups: essential, helpful, and useless.
Having run it a few dozen times with kids and adults, I’ve learned a few phrases to help keep the discussion nice and open:
“What do you guys think?”
This is a general phrase to help me avoid being “the authority.” At all costs, I want to avoid giving yes/no answers, agreeing/disagreeing with students, or otherwise closing the discussion. I’ll bounce questions, suggestions, and concerns back to the group.
Note: this will drive a few of your kids crazy. But this is good! They’ve become school-ified and need to be broken of the desire for one right answer.
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“Who has a use for a useless item?”
Someone will quickly point out that the matches are “useless”. I’ll agree that matches won’t burn, but then open the door by asking “does anyone have a way to use the matches?” Someone always has an idea! And when they share it, everyone else starts to get new ideas. Matches aren’t just for burning.
If I had just said “you’re right, they’re useless” and moved on, we would have closed the door on those cool ideas. PLUS, each time someone shares an idea, it sparks everyone else to expand their thinking. The result is a much more open discussion.
“Does anyone have an unexpected use for one of these items?”
This gives kids an excuse to share a weird idea. Lots of times someone will mention that the life raft could be a bed or shelter, or the pistols could be propulsion, or the parachute could be a big bag. Phrasing this question right gives kids permission to share a weird or silly idea.
The open-ness of the activity is what makes it great. Every time I run it, someone surprises me with a new thought. And, the more careful I am with my phrasing, the braver people become with sharing their ideas.