The Artful Teacher

The Well-Crafted ‘Elephantine’ Challenge


As educators are forced more and more to compete with all kinds of media for their students’ attention, it might be worthwhile to steal a page from their competitor’s book.  There are unspoken imperatives media creators live by, especially the ones who create those highly addictive video games.  What they are striving for most of all is an irresistible challenge.


A challenge is a much more superior cognitive activity than memorization or drilling.  So effective is a well-crafted challenge that people will generally accept them without even asking how they work. For instance, how many people spend a lot of time studying or memorizing how a video game works? They generally launch right into the game and figure it out for themselves.


Luckily, a lot has been done in the area of developing and executing well-crafted educational challenges.  In fact, learning by challenges has the same exciting and exhilarating effects as actually creating or discovering an idea or a piece of knowledge for the very first time.


The most basic premise of any effective learning challenge is to start with something some one knows and then to increase its difficulty in stages in order to teach them something they don’t know.


Try this challenge for increasing your students’ awareness of vocabulary and how it can be expanded and be emplyed more creatively.


Get them to write a reverse “S” on a piece of paper.  On that S have them write as many synonyms for the word “big” as they can think of.  Then have each read what they have written out loud and list all the original words on an S on a flipchart or blackboard.  Have each student create a sentence using three of the words from the general list and read it out loud.  Repeat by having each student use three different words in a sentence and read it out loud.  Repeat again by having the students use three different words, only this time get them to make their sentences into a question and have them read it aloud.  In the next level of challenge, have them come up with three antonyms for the word big and read them aloud. Finally, have them create a sentence using three antonyms and three synonyms in one sentence.


A key to executing an effective educational challenge is to resist critiquing or offering any sort of praise or judgment on the quality of the work being presented.  Instead, feedback to students could simply be: “ I understand what you are saying. I’m not sure what you are saying.”


Some probable outcomes from this particular challenge could include:  Awareness of how vocabulary can be efficiently acquired and integrated into writing and everyday speech as well as getting a taste of using language art skills such as word-smithing, personal editing and the verifying of one’s own work.


Any subject can be introduced as a challenge using the same basic premises outlined here. Success comes with practice. However, students will always appreciate your efforts as it appeals to their inherent love of discovering new things for themselves.

Sima Gandhi