What If?

One of my favourite lesson starters is to give students a What If question and give them a few minutes to generate multiple answers. This serves a couple of purposes. 1) they immediately have something to do when they enter class rather than waiting for everyone else to arrive. 2) it gets the brain working in a creative, divergent fashion to start the lesson.

I have spoken about this a few times online and people seem to like the idea. Natasha Low asked if I had blogged about these but I hadn’t so here are some examples of what I mean.

I try to give between 3-5 minutes and set a target of at least 7 ideas written down in that time. Some prompts work better than others of course and students do range in their generative capabilities.

The more that students do this, however, the better they get at generating ideas quickly which has benefits in the rest of our learning in class as well.

Most of the prompts are generic in nature:

  • What if you had 2 more hours in your day for the next month?
  • What if parents had to attend school with their son/daughter once a week?
  • What if schools rewarded questions instead of answers?
  • What if you woke up to find a huge hole in your lawn?
  • What if you woke up this morning and you had turned into the person sitting beside you?
  • What if the person sitting on your right was able to read your mind?
  • What if the sky was green and the grass was red?
  • What if you could fly?
  • What if you had a superpower?
  • What if wood was elastic?
  • What if everyone thought the same?
  • What if time started going backwards?
  • What if tests didn’t exist?
  • What if birds flew upside down?
  • What if it was 35 degrees every day of the year?
  • What if you could teleport?

Whilst others may be more specific to what we have been learning about at the time or are linked to what we are going to learn about:

  • What if you designed a robot to help someone in our community?
  • What if the Moon landing was fake?
  • What if you lived in an ideal world?
  • What if all people lived forever?
  • What if there were only humans left on Earth?
  • What if chocolate cost $100 a bar?
  • What if $ had never been invented?

Here’s an example of where Pete McGhie and I last year used it as the basis for a whole lesson of provocation as we entered into an exploration of food issues in our community. In this example students had more time but were expected to provide 2 or 3 answers to every question:


Looking to get students thinking more creatively or develop their ability to rapidly generate ideas then why not try asking them some regular What If questions?


7 thoughts on “What If?

  1. That’s a great list there Steve – I’ll be borrowing some ideas in there for sure! Putting these out there at the start of a lesson is a good idea too – I’ve often found if students can get into that creative / divergent mindset quickly and easily and in a fun way right at the start, it really flows into all their other learning from then on. Maybe we should start a crowd-sourced list of these?

  2. Awesome way to start a learning experience, I’m wondering how this might play out in a primary setting. Think I need to put this to the test as we investigate Inventive Thinking. Thanks for the insight into one of your approaches

    • It was a Primary teacher that I got the idea from about 5 years ago at a Future Problem Solving course. She was using exclusively with her FPS kids but I figured it would work well for all and have used since as a lesson starter.

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