Riddle Me This!

What’s bright orange, red, and yellow, full of marshmallows on sticks, and freezing to the touch?

Napoleon at the SphinxIf you’ve read much of this blog, you know I like to use and share simple activities or classroom features that (a) are a source of high-interest, level-appropriate content in the target language and (b) easily engender conversation in the target language among learners. Examples have included party tricks, students’ quirky skills, props, this day in history, windows, frivolous inventions, mystery items, and optical illusions. Today we’re riddling!

Riddles can satisfy the above conditions because people tend to want to know the answer. People want to know badly enough that, while waiting to learn the answer, they’ll suspend their desire to do something entirely different in order to talk about the riddle for a while. This can take the form either of talking through possible solutions to the riddle or, for less advanced speakers, participating in simple Q & A about the riddle itself while benefiting from extensive repetition of the target language structures involved. Riddles make a good recurring class feature, especially if students themselves bring ones to share.

For the riddle at the beginning of this post, which I invented for the purposes of this post in about the amount of time that it took to type the sentence, a teacher or student could ask verification questions about almost every element of the question using the technique called Circling:

Is the item bright orange, red, and yellow? Does the item have blue or does it have red? What is on the sticks? Are the marshmallows on sticks or on forks? etc.

More advanced conversations between students could weigh the likelihood of various proposed solutions, with proposals and evaluations happening in the target language in groups of any suitable size, orally or in writing.

There are many genres of riddles, from one-liners like “Why did the lioness cross the savanna?” to logic games (“Shelley, Conrad, McTavish, and Wentworth go to the gym on four different days. Shelley and McTavish don’t go on days that start with T, etc.”); Sphinxian questions about numbers of limbs; and good old locked-room lateral thinking mysteries. If you teach a language other than your native one(s), you might be able simply to translate a riddle you already know in your native language(s) into your target language, but it would be great also to use riddles from cultures that use the target language.

If you know of a good source of riddles in a particular language, please let us know in the Comments section below! That’s also the place to offer your answers to the question at the top of this post.

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 It’s All about the Questions!

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  1. Special thanks to Jeff Brickler for raising the topic of riddles this week on the latin-bestpractices listserv!

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