Purpose: What kind of thinking
does this routine encourage?
This is a routine for understanding why something is the way it
is. This routine can get at either causal explanation or explanation
in terms of purposes or both.
Application: When and Where can
it be used?
You can apply it to almost anything: a pencil, cell phones, forms
of government, historical documents, and events. Students can work
in pairs or groups of larger size, even a whole class. The explanation
game can also be used solo. The first time the routine is used,
the teacher may need to take an active role in scaffolding the conversation
and modeling how to ask questions of explanation and clarification
if others. Over time, students can begin to emulate the conversational
moves and questioning they have seen modeled.
Launch: What are some tips for starting
and using this routine?
Begin with something "on the table"-an object like a cup or a compass,
a document like a poem, a picture, an historical event, a scientific
theory, etc. The first person (this might be the teacher initially)
points out an interesting feature of the object: "I notice that...
That's interesting. Why is it that way? or "Why did it happen that
way?" (or some similar why question). The other people in the group
try to answer the question or at least to propose possible explanations
and reasons. As these students share their ideas, the person asking
the original question follows up by asking, "What makes you think
so?" The group works together to build explanations rather than
merely deferring to an outside source, the teacher or a textbook,
to provide an answer.
Student questions and explanations become visible
to the class as they are shared. Responses to the routine also can
be written down and recorded so that there is a class list of evolving
ideas. A few key issues or puzzles might then be chosen for further
investigations. A conversation could also be recorded as a chart
with four columns representing the key structures of the conversation:
1) the Observation that is initially made, 2) the Question that
comes out of that observation, 3) the various Explanations/Hypotheses
that the rest of group puts forth, 4) the Reasons /Justifications
that are given in support of the explanations.