There's one in every class. That kid who argues every chance he gets for that extra point. It's time to give everyone a reason to argue by making ambiguous test questions.
John walked in, handed me the green highlighter, and left. The green highlighter was a secret message from Coach Morgan. The principal was on his way down for my yearly observation. I needed something quick, so I grabbed a True/False quiz out of my filing cabinet and handed it out. The quiz only took 3 minutes, so I decided to discuss the answers with the class. It was a disaster. Students argued about every answer. We didn't even finish.
The principal returned during lunch. She told me it was the best literature test she had ever seen and a great main idea and supporting detail lesson plan, one that really engaged the students, one that satisfied the state benchmarks on formulating an argument, using evidence to support opinions, and defending arguments with logic and reason. She requested I teach in an service on making ambiguous test questions the following week as part of a seminar on literature lesson plans for high school. I now give you the highlights.
Main Idea and Supporting Details Lesson Plan Procedures
Literature lesson plans for high school need not be complicated. This one requires a little up front preparation, some creativity, and a sense of humor.
- Read a piece of literature. I find short stories more effective for lower to intermediate readers. The material is fresh in their minds and the justifications are easier to find. Novels and plays work well for students who have experience with literary analysis.
- Create a multiple choice test with ambiguous questions and answers. Tell students to choose the best answer. Don't tell them there is no best answer.
- Grade the tests based on how you would answer the questions.
- Return the tests and watch shoulders slump, heads go down, and tears form.
- Take a minute to enjoy shoulders slumping, heads going down, and tears forming.
- Go over the answers. Students will soon begin arguing.
- Argue back. Ask them to prove it. Ask them why. Vote as a class which is the best answer. Get them to argue with each other.
- After a few questions they'll figure it out.
- Instruct students to justify all their "wrong" answers to get full credit. The justifications should include page numbers.
Sample Literature Test Questions
Who is most responsible for Juliet's Death in Romeo and Juliet?
- A. Friar Lawrence
- B. Romeo
- C. Juliet
- D. Paris
- E. Someone else
What was the hardest part of Eliezer's concentration camp experience in Night?
- A. Seeing his father die
- B. Not being able to eat
- C. Watching people burn
- D. Fearing the furnace
- E. None of these
Use these questions to teach concepts as well.
What is the most important thing to remember about essay writing?
- A. Organization
B. A good thesis statement
- C. Correct use of writing conventions
- D. Clarity of Ideas
- E. None of these
What is the most valuable type of punctuation?
The Odyssey Quiz Literature Test Example
This Odyssey quiz will challenge students to argue for points.
The Cyclops* was...
- justified in eating the sailors because that's what cyclopes do.
- justified in eating the sailors because he was hungry.
- not justified because eating humans is bad for your heart.
- not justified because he broke the laws of hospitality
The most important part of the Cyclopes adventure was...
- it angered Poseidon.
- it demonstrated Odysseus' wisdom.
- it foreshadowed the difficult journey ahead.
- none of these.
What leadership qualities does Odysseus demonstrate the most in defeating the Polyphemus?
Which incident best exemplifies Odysseus' courage?
- poking out the cyclops's eye
- entering the cyclops's cave
- deceiving him with a fake name
- strapping himself to a sheep
- something else
The Lotus is a metaphor for...
- drug abuse.
- lost hope.
- not focusing on what's important.
- losing sight of your purpose.
What is the most important lesson learned from the Cicones?
- Don't mix alcohol and sharp weapons.
- Greed and alcohol are a bad combination.
- Invading an island and killing people can be harmful.
- When your leader says it's time to go, it's time to go.
Which of the following examples is most ironic?
- "Nobody hurt me!"
- The sheep that saved the sailors' lives were later butchered and eaten by the sailors.
- The cyclopes gladly accepted the substance that led to his injury.
- Poseidon has really ugly children.
- Something else.
What of the cyclopes was injured the most?
- his eye
- his ego
- his reputation
- his ability to make a living as a farmer
- something else
Which race do you think the cyclopes enjoy eating the most?
- Greeks: The cyclopes have already acquired the taste.
- Trojans: they aren't as tough as the Greeks.
- Italians: Cyclopes love digested pasta.
- None of these
Which of the following destinations would make the best alternative to the Island of the Cyclopes?
- The Dominican Republic
*In case you were wondering (and I'm sure you were), Cyclops is singular; Cyclopes is plural.