Good Idea / Bad Idea (Activity + Add-On)

Here’s something you can use as a freestanding activity or as an add-on to almost anything you do in a language classroom. It doesn’t get much simpler:

Good Idea / Bad Idea (freestanding version)

All you do is a say a sentence in the target language. All students do is say whether it represents a good idea or a bad idea. Here are some English examples:

Moppy the mouse went on a blind date in a place called “Snake Pit.”

Ulrich submitted his science project on time.

I got up this morning.

After each sentence you say, students declare “Good Idea!” or “Bad Idea!” The point is to let students hear lots of sentences that they can understand and want to listen to because they want to form and give their opinion about whether the thing is a good idea.

Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Comments and variations on free-standing Good Idea / Bad Idea

  • You can use variations on the same sentence several times in a row, instead of unrelated sentences, and see what it takes to change from Good Idea to Bad Idea or vice versa: Moppy the mouse went on a blind date in a place called “Snake Pit.” … Moppy the mouse sought revenge in a place called “Snake Pit.” … Moppy the mouse went on a blind date in a place called “Every Mouse that Has Ever Gone on a Blind Date Here Has Found True Love.” (Edit 17 Oct 2018: This is similar to Life or Death, one of three brain breaks described here.) Again, the point is for students to get lots of input that they can understand and that they want to keep listening to.
  • Instead of calling out their opinion, students can write it on mini whiteboards.
  • Instead of announcing the sentences, you can project them, perhaps with relevant images. You might project the same sentence a few times in a row, with different images that change the interpretation of the sentence.
  • Students can make up the sentences. They can call them out, or they can each write one and submit it on a piece of paper or a mini whiteboard. You can skim the submissions and pick a few to call out. (See the add-ons below for related ideas.)
  • Depending on how your TL works, you can use/elicit/agree on variations on whatever phrase you use for “Good Idea / Bad Idea”–“That is a good idea,” “That was a good idea,” “That would be a good idea,” “That would have been a good idea,” etc.
  • Once you’ve introduced G.I./B.I., you can do it as a filler activity whenever you feel like it.
  • Don’t do the freestanding version for so long that it gets old. You might even think of it simply as practice for the more powerful add-on versions described below.
  • You can use sentences that are pretty clearly a good idea or a bad idea, or you can use things whose quality is open to interpretation or depends on additional information, as in the example above about getting up in the morning. This brings you to add-on territory:
  • [Edit 5/8/2016: Today I came across the slides from Bryan Kandel’s CSCTFL 2016 presentation “Seamless CI” and saw that he uses G.I./B.I. to target certain structures, for instance, “Instead of brushing his teeth, a boy drinks warm milk.” See slide 31–and check out the other slides for more good ideas!]

Good Idea / Bad Idea (add-on)

The freestanding version can be fun and useful as a warmup or filler, but the real fun, and the real power, lies in using it to extend or inspire other interactions. Here are some ways to do so:

  • You can take almost any sentence you or a student says in the course of class, or any sentence from a story, film, etc., and do a quick timeout for G.I./B.I. I suggest having a stock phrase or gesture you use to invoke G.I./B.I. Let’s say a student asks to go to the bathroom. You look at the class and say or sign, “Good Idea or Bad Idea?” An announcement comes over the PA. You say or sign, “Good Idea or Bad Idea?” The class reads the opening line of a novel. You say or sign, “Good Idea or Bad Idea?” The class watches a commercial. You say or sign, “Good Idea or Bad Idea?” The class comes up with the next idea for a TPRS® story. You say or sign, “Good Idea or Bad Idea?” In all these cases, you can extend the story or the conversation however much or little seems right.
  • Especially if the sentence isn’t obviously a good or bad idea, you can use it as a conversation starter or a story starter: If you say, Eliza went swimming in the ocean, you will probably get mixed responses. Ask the people who declared it a good idea why they did so, then the people who declared it a bad idea. You’ll get some great thoughts that you can talk about in the TL. You: “Why is it a good idea?” Students: “Because the beach is crawling with rats!” “Because Mark Zuckerberg guaranteed her a billion dollars if she did!” You: “Why is it a bad idea?” Students: “Because it’s actually the Arctic Ocean!” “Because Eliza can’t swim!” “Because her parents told her not to!” “Because she has a blind date in half an hour!” “Because ‘the ocean’ is code for ‘hot lava’!” At this point, you’ve basically begun Asking a Story, which you can milk for as long as you like, with all the attendant techniques (e.g., student actors, parallel characters, new details,…).
  • You can use your students’ compositions (e.g., Free Writes) as a source of sentences for G.I./B.I. Even if you do this anonymously, students enjoy recognizing their own sentences and wondering when one of theirs will be used.
Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Good Idea or Bad Idea?

What’s so great about Good Idea / Bad Idea

In case the above examples and comments haven’t convinced or inspired you, let me point out some more benefits:

  • You can use whatever sentences come to mind or seem interesting, or you can use G.I./B.I. for targeted repetition of specific language by using a series of similarly worded sentences: Zambrotti goes to see the doctor about his stomach. Zambrotti goes to see the doctor about his mob debts. Zambrotti goes to see the doctor about his relationship problems. Zambrotti goes to see the doctor about his murky past. Zambrotti goes to see the doctor about his screenplay. . . .
  • You can use sentences for G.I./B.I. to recycle language that does not come up as regularly in class as you would like.
  • You can spend 20 minutes on G.I./B.I. or 20 seconds–whatever suits your goals for a particular instance.
  • Once you have used it a few times, G.I./B.I. is likely to become a class tradition, with students calling out “Good Idea or Bad Idea?!” when a sentence from a text or conversation seems especially suitable for it. G.I./B.I. can thus support classroom community as a sort of inside joke. (If you don’t want students to call it out randomly, you can have them gesture to you and you can decide whether you want to use the opportunity for G.I./B.I.)
  • G.I./B.I. promotes HOT–Higher Order Thinking. Determining whether something is a good idea or a bad idea requires not only understanding the statement, but also using prior knowledge of the world, hypothetical thinking about what issues could be involved, and, sometimes, creative thinking about what might change the situation or the interpretation.

Have fun!

To become a Master Questioner equipped with even more ways to form and use questions to sustain compelling interactions, check out my recorded webinar Asking Just-Right Questions!

Posted in Lesson Plans, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , .


    • Good question! Latin may require a few different phrases depending on the circumstances. “bonum consilium / malum consilium” (or “propositum”) works great if the action refers to someone’s actual plan or purpose, as in the examples above about the bathroom trip and announcements of upcoming events. “prudenter factum / imprudenter factum” would probably work for most of the times when one was asking about a narrative sentence. I’ll add other options as I think of other situations where these phrases might not apply!

  1. Pingback: Brillante Viernes: March 25, 2016 | Maris Hawkins

  2. This is gold! I used this in Jr. High Latin today and the kids loved it. I collected about 40 pictures from the internet around the themes of interesting food combinations (e.g. Peeps on a pizza), animal encounters (e.g. riding an elephant), and activities (e.g. playing violin while unicycling). I showed several of the pictures in class today while posing the question “bonum an malum consilium?” and my kids at it up. They loved the pix, were eager to share their thoughts on why (mostly in Latin), and the class flew by. We’re all looking forward to doing more Thursday. Thanks for the idea!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing, that is so easy to do and can create engagement for sure. One question, do you allow answers in english (in my case), if they don’t have enough voc.? or only ask what they would be able to respond. They might get exited with all kind of long/ “different” responses that requires English.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Dear Zoraya, I’m so sorry I missed this question when you posted it last summer! Just in case:
      For the basic responses, all students have to say is “good idea” or “bad idea,” so it doesn’t get too tricky. For the variations where students are asked to give reasons, I recommend asking at a level that allows students to answer using target language they have already internalized. At the lowest level, this might mean asking in a way that allows students to give one-or-two-word answers. For instance, in the “Eliza went swimming in the ocean” example, instead of the longer answers I wrote, students could just answer “cold!” or “big fish!” or “fun!”
      Another option is to invoke Terry Waltz’s no-more-than-two-words-in-English rule. That way students can give a reason they think is really interesting but don’t know how to say in the TL, and then you can decide if you want to run with it by restating a student’s answer in the TL and asking further questions about it.
      Hope this helps! Let us know if you’ve discovered other options that work for you.

  4. Used this today to review a movie we are watching – wow. French 1and 2 trying to get out their opinions! March is a mess!!
    Thanks, Justin
    Carol Hill

  5. One of the teachers at my kids’ school was talking about Little Problem/Big Problem that she teaches as part of the Zones of Regulation curriculum. A giant lightbulb came on. What a fun companion to good idea/bad idea.

    She follows up with big reaction/little reaction and helps student learn to match the size of the reaction to the size of the problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.