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Using open-ended questions

Assessments in high school should often move beyond standard multiple-choice and essay tests. The following activity is an example of an assignment that allows teachers to assess students’ research skills, knowledge of historical figures and ability to engage in higher-order thinking, such as evaluating, analyzing and comparing. These sorts of assessments provide opportunities for students to learn as well as to show what they already know. After reading this assignment, you might talk with your mentor or mentee about designing a similar assessment in your own courses.

For this activity, each student chooses a civil rights activist to research and gathers biographical information about that person. Then students must choose three questions to answer from the list below. These open-ended questions are designed to encourage students to move beyond gathering background information and begin making connections between the person they have researched and larger issues.

Historical participant questions

Choose 3 of these questions to answer for each of your civil rights participants. You can use three different questions for each person or use three of the same.

  1. If this participant were alive now, what might he or she accomplish today? How do you know?
  2. How is this participant like or unlike you? Explain.
  3. This participant has come back to visit the President of the United States. What advice might the participant give the president?
  4. How might the world be different if this participant never lived? Explain in detail.
  5. What is the most important value reflected by the actions of this person?
  6. Consider the accomplishments of this participant. If you were her or him, of what accomplishment would you be most proud? Why?
  7. If you could ask this person three questions, what would they be? Why?
  8. This person has been granted three wishes to change today’s world. Explain what these three wishes might be.
  9. If there were one action of this person you could change, which would it be? Why?
  10. Describe the physical characteristics of this person. If you could change one, which one would you change? Why?
  11. If the character took a vacation today, where might he or she choose to go and why?
  12. You have been granted one day to go back in history to become this person. What day would you pick and what would you do differently?
  13. This person sits at home alone writing in a diary. He or she starts to write, “The one thing that bothers me most…” Complete the idea and explain your choices.
  14. You have been granted special powers that make you invisible and let you travel through time. What event in the life of the participant would you choose to observe? Why?

Please be sure to answer all of your questions completely using thought and creativity. Each response needs to be at least 3 sentences in length. All of your responses need to be written using COMPLETE SENTENCES.

Sample Answer to Question #1

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, I believe that he would still be preaching peace and trying to unite the races. Although some things have changed since he participated in sit-ins and freedom rides, there still is a lot to accomplish in terms of racial equality in the United States. I think Martin Luther King Jr. would be a prominent speaker and possibly a very influential political figure. He was such a dynamic speaker that I think he would hold a political office if he were still alive today.