How Did This Get Here? is a simple, no-prep interaction that can be a standalone activity or a recurring routine. Inspired by “Thank the Farmer,” an activity in Susan Kaiser Greenland’s Mindful Games (p. 47), it invites students to ponder the provenance of an item they take for granted. Channeled through my language-teacher-brain, it also fosters socially sensitive imagination while generating target-language (TL) input and interaction. Here’s how it works:
The teacher indicates any item in the classroom—preferably one that is actually being (or about to be) used—and asks, in the TL, “How did this get here?” Let’s take a dry-erase pen as an example.
Initial responses will probably be things like “Someone bought it,” “A truck,” “You put it there,” or “I don’t know.” Any of these is enough for you, the teacher, to start asking follow-up questions:
To “Someone bought it”:
Who do you think bought it? Where did they buy it? Do you think they bought anything else? How much do you think it cost?
To “A truck”:
What kind of truck? Who was driving the truck? Where did the truck come from? Was the truck carrying anything else? Where do you think the pen was before it was on the truck?
To “You put it there”:
Ah, but where did I get it? Actually, I didn’t put it there; someone else must have—who? How will I get a new one if this one breaks or is stolen?
To “I don’t know”:
Let’s think. Did it fall from the sky? Was pen-seed planted here? Did it come from wee pen-parents? If you had to get one of these, what would you do?
Keep asking follow-up questions—perhaps leading ones—and taking answers until it feels like the interaction has run its course.
The immediate goal is for students to encounter TL input and participate in TL interaction that is rooted in something concretely present, but allows for the use of lots of language functions, such as description, narration, and conjecture.
The secondary goal is to get students thinking about everyday items in the larger context of a staggeringly interconnected world. It’s not necessary for students to figure out, or even for you to know, all the steps and people and resources involved in bringing the pen to your class. Just starting the process opens students up to thinking more consciously and—dare I hope?—compassionately about people and processes outside their everyday purview.
You can do How Did This Get Here? initially as a freestanding task. Once the pertinent patterns of thought and communication have been established, though, I recommend simply throwing it in every once in a while in the course of any lesson, just like with Good Idea/Bad Idea. In addition to accomplishing the above goals, it may function as a bit of a brain break in the TL.
You might invite students to ask How did this get here? when the urge strikes.
If it’s a procedure your students are used to, the item might even become a character or a key element in a story you create with your students.
It’s possible that parts or all of the item originate in a place associated with your target language. If so, take advantage by doing a little research, maybe showing some pertinent pictures, and discussing the role that workers in that place play in bringing the item to your classroom.
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!