Playing with ideas

I have reflected a lot over the years about Enquiries and have ,without doubt seen children fully engaged in the challenges of thinking deeply about their lives.  However for those teachers who work with Key Stage 2 children,  it is clear how important it is to find the laughter and “play” in learning whenever possible.

When I taught Year 3 and 4 in Acle Primary near Norwich over a two year period, I started to think about how I could get the children engaged, laughing, going on a meandering journey through imaginative play.

It was this need to play with ideas, in order to find the humour and excitement in a session that led me to look at  Warm-ups.  Also, the opportunity that older children give you to share a joke, mutually understand a pun, precis an idea and luxuriate in the absurd, was not to be missed!

So this post is about the 2 main Warm-Up’s to P4C sessions that I did over a 2 year period.  I’ve called it Just Warming Up, but I could have just as easily called it, “Getting Them on Side” because that is exactly what it did.  I truly believe I would not have been able to explore the challenging and , at times, disturbing themes of  ”The Island “ by Armin Greder in depth for example, if the children did not buy in to P4C wholeheartedly. 

 I began to see that the Warm-Up’s were a very powerful part of the session, as those children who were more inclined to “play” with ideas, started to fully engage in the sessions, to enjoy the thinking.  It also helped me to spot the imaginative thinkers, the analytical thinkers, the problem-solvers and the pragmatists. The pure enjoyment for both teacher and pupils  meant that when the enquiry part of the sessions started, they were more up for giving it a go.

 Thinking Keys

In my role as Able, Gifted and Talented Coordinator I had established the identification of AG &T children using thinking skills as a basis.  During the staff consultation on this a colleague introduced me to Tony Ryan’s Thinking keys and immediately I saw the possibilities of this as far as starters for Philosophy sessions.  I could see that his work could provide opportunities for imagination, creativitity, problem-solving and some absurdity.  I thought that this would capture my children’s interest and I was not disappointed. 

The 20 Thinkers Keys are the invention of Tony Ryan.  He describes them thus: “ The Thinkers Keys feature twenty powerful strategies for generating quality intellectual rigour in everyday classroom practice.”  In his original work in 1990 he says this:

 “The majority of the Keys place emphasis upon the development of innovative and creative thinking.
I have done this for three important reasons:

1. Creative thinking can be exciting and enjoyable. This active participation can then create a positive attitude towards the learning process.

2. The stimulation of creativity in learning heightens the emotional link with that learning.  This emotional involvement boosts the effectiveness of our memory systems.

3. Developing our creative potential will strengthen our ability to cope with change.  If there is one thing that we can guarantee into the 21st century, it will be the  exponential rate of change that will affect the world. When our thinking is open-ended  and accepting of new ideas, we become much more capable of adapting to  these changing circumstances.”


He has a website  and produces lots of resources for schools, but I am impressed that he still allows people to download the basic ideas on A4 sheets for free.  The free resource is what I’ve used, but if I was working with Key Stage 2 on a more permanent basis, I would invest in the jazzy resources, if only to support a brilliant idea!!

Working with the Keys gives a teacher the opportunity to challenge the children in so many ways.  I used them and allowed the solutions to be imaginative as long as they “made sense” but you could put your own restrictions on them in order to focus your children’s thinking on a particular area.  I used the time to liberate the children’s thinking to allow them to play, and they enjoyed it so much they still ask to do the keys.  Although many of the children were laughing as they gave their solutions to the problems this, by no means, undervalues the importance of Tony Ryan’s work.  He understands that thinking is the bedrock of learning, not an add-on and this is what convinced me of the value of his work.

I do not want to give too much explanation, as it is important that Tony Ryan shares his resources through his website, but just as a taster I’ll share a few examples that I adapted from his ideas:

 How could you capture a dinosaur using an elastic band, a bar of chocolate and a cushion?

We talked about it, laughed about it and acted it out.  No idea got through if it didn’t make sense.

Give as many questions as you can think of with the answer “War”

The children found this really difficult at first.  This was by far the hardest key for them to do, but once they got it – they could really fly.  This is where mini dialogues could begin, as I used Philosophical concept words such as power, love etc.   I loved the interplay between the children who thought of serious answers and those that searched for the humourous perspective.

I would urge anyone who does Philosophy regularly to investigate Tony Ryan’s work.  In the same way as we have used De Bono’s ideas, they can be adapted for purpose.

I have written my own keys  to use in my class of Reception children because the ideas are relevant to any age group.

Simon Mayo or was it Chris Evans?

I think I got the idea from a Radio 2 show where the presenter simply asks people to ring in with a 3 or 6 word summing up of their day.  He gets answers such as: Horse escaped, frantic or Washing left, urrgh!   I think I may have read something else.  Anyway, I asked the children to describe something using only 3 words.  They started tentively, but got very good at it.  I gave the bland example: TEA: hot, brown liquid. 

Here are a few examples: RABBIT: furry, hopping friend, led to RABBIT: furry, hopping pest, led to RABBIT: Good in pie

The children became increasingly good at making funny and clever 3 liners!  I then chose to take concepts or Philosophical themes, just to see what would happen:

LOVE: Chocolate and flowers, , LOVE: All you need (Beatles fan!), LOVE: Grown ups stress

I learned so much about the children.  Some suggestions were so brilliant I wanted to grab the nearest OFSTED inspector (although I’m not sure which box he/she’d tick) and others really struggled.  But we laughed so much and yet at times I was amazed by the levity of some of their answers.  So simple.

So I urge you to find the fun in invention, imagination and play in the KeyStage 1/2 class.  I’m convinced it gave me different insights into children’s thinking, got those children on side who perhaps would have been a bit reticent about sharing more serious ideas at first and ultimately led to a strong community of enquiry.

If you have any warm up ideas let us know!


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