So, you’ve met the eleven dimensions of depth and complexity. Now let’s check out another set of thinking tools known as the content imperatives, also developed back in the day by Kaplan and Gould.
For the deepest of dives into the Content Imperative, check out the Depth and Complexity book I co-authored.
Much like the depth and complexity prompts, the content imperatives are thinking tools designed to push students deeper into any content. Each content imperative has a corresponding icon, just like depth and complexity. And, just like depth and complexity, I recommend using emoji for the icons. They’re convenient, free, and accessible from any device in any app.
Here are the five Content Imperatives (we’ll dig deeper into each one a bit further down):
- ⏺️ Origin – Focus on the beginning of an idea.
- ⏬ Contribution – How does a factor affect an idea?
- 🔄 Convergence – How do several factors come together and interact while affecting an idea?
- ⏸️ Parallel – What is a similar idea from a different context?
- ↔️ Paradox – Look for dilemmas or impossibilities within a topic.
Two Big Mistakes
Easily the most common mistake I’ve seen (and made!) is to simply use these five tools as if they were just five more depth and complexity prompts. Instead, content imperatives are meant to be used in combination with depth and complexity.
- Not just: “What is the ⏺️ origin of Batman?”
- But: “What ⚖️ problems led to the ⏺️ creation of Batman?”
See how origin can combine with ethics to create a more focused question?
But here’s big mistake number two: just asking kids to identify, identify, identify. Even with my upgraded question, it still just asks for a list of problems. We want kids to think not just stop at a list. So make sure you also prompt higher order thinking.
Contrast the ⚖️ problems that led to Batman’s ⏺️ beginnings with those that led to Superman’s ⏺️ beginnings.
Way better, right! But I wouldn’t want to stop there either. After my students contrast the problems, we can do more thinking:
How did those ⚖️ problems ⏬ lead to such different 👓 personalities?
See, we always want to be writing sequences of questions, not just one-offs. And we want to make sure those questions prompt higher-order thinking, not just a list.
So the two big content imperatives mistakes:
- Don’t use content imperatives in isolation. Combine them with depth and complexity.
- Don’t just ask “identify” questions which can be fully answered with a mere list.
Now, let’s go deeper into each content imperatives.
Origin is all about the beginning of a topic. The icon ⏺️ is like a sun rising or a starting point.
With origin and depth and complexity, we can ask students to think about the ⏺️ beginning of a 🚦 rule, ⚖️ problem, 👓 point of view, and so on.
But we can also consider the 🚦 rules, ⚖️ problems, or 👓 points of view that led to a ⏺️ beginning.
When we use ⏬ contribution, we’re asking students to consider how a factor affects a topic. The icon shows arrows moving towards an idea.
When we combine ⏬ contribution and depth and complexity, students will think about how a 🚦 rule, ⚖️ problem, 👓 point of view, etc, ⏬ contributes to an idea.
And, while “contribution” sounds positive, contributions can certainly be negative or ambiguous.
Decide which ⚖️ problem most ⏬ contributed to the Great Depression.
Convergence is all about multiple factors coming together and interacting with the topic. 🔄 Convergence is definitely messier than ⏬ contribution, which focuses on one isolated factor.
Students might be thinking about how multiple ⚖️ problems 🔄 converged to lead to a solution. They might consider how multiple 👓 perspectives 🔄 came together to create a new idea.
How does an author 🔄 bring together characters, setting, and actions to establish a 🏠 theme?
With ⏸️ parallel, we’re asking students to look for interesting, unexpected similarities.
The key here is to push those parallels beyond the obvious.
Ask students to look for similarities across content areas, units, and grade levels.
I love this Byrdseed.TV lesson which asks kids to find the ⏸️ parallels between the human body and volcanoes.
With this prompt, we’re getting kids to think about impossibilities and dilemmas within a topic. Things that pull in two opposite directions (hence the icon!). I love ↔️ paradox.
The key here is to avoid jut asking kids to find paradoxes, but instead give them the paradox, and ask them to analyze/explain/evaluate.
In the United States, it’s possible for a person to get fewer votes yet become the president. Explain the 👓 perspectives that led to this ↔️ paradox. Is it possible to change the 🚦 rules behind the paradox?
See how this get kids interacting with the paradox, rather than just identifying it?
I also have a bunch of fun paradox videos at Byrdseed.TV.
Some Final Examples
Here are a few more examples of questions that build on content imperatives, depth and complexity, and higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- Rather than just asking about “origins” in general, ask about “the ⏺️ origins of the 🚦 rules” or “the ⏺️ origins of the ⚖️ ethical problems” in the topic you’re studying.
- Don’t just ask about “parallels,” ask about “⏸️ parallel ⚖️ ethical issues” or “⏸️ parallel 🌀 patterns.”
- Ask how “👓 multiple perspectives 🔄 converge” or how “🌻 details 🔄 converge to form 🌀 patterns.”
- Compare and contrast the ⏺️ origins of the 🚦rules in the USA and England.
- Analyze the ⏸️ parallels of two characters’ 👓 perspectives.
- Judge which 🌻 details ⏬ contributed most to the success of an experiment.
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