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Which one doesn’t belong? Non-examples saving the day

We get so many of our great ideas from other content areas.

The useful History Frame graphic organizer is really just an American Lit Story Frame in disguise. The engaging Discrepant Event Inquiry strategy has its roots in science and pre-med programs. Who doesn’t love a great set of Structure Strips? Elementary language arts.

And now we’ve got Which One Doesn’t Belong, an activity that has been bumping around math classrooms for centuries.

If you’ve ever played the awesome card game Set, then you’ve messed with the idea of Which One Doesn’t Belong. The rules of the game are simple: Collect as many sets of cards as possible. You create sets by combining three cards that are either All Alike or All Different in each of four different features. To be a set, each of the card’s features (color, shape, number, shading) must be all the same on each card or all different on each card. So this is an example of a Set:

And a non-example:

Clear as mud?

To be good at Set, you need the ability to see similarities and differences. And this ability is not just a valuable game skill. When our kids are able to see similarities and differences in our social studies content, they’re also leveling up their historical thinking skills.

We’ve been using the Frayer model for years to help kids make sense of people, places, ideas, and events. Why? Because it works. Why? Because not only do your kids need a definition and essential characteristics of the person, place, idea, or event, they also need examples and non-examples. Especially the non-examples. If a kid can accurately describe a non-example? She’s got it.

But we can go beyond just using a Frayer graphic organizer. Which One Doesn’t Belong is one of those other tools and activities we can use to encourage kids to see sims and differences.

The beauty of using the Which One Doesn’t Belong activity is that it’s a great way to mash sims and differences together with asking kids to explain their thinking.

Basic idea?

  • Put kids in groups of two.
  • Find four things that obviously have something in common. Push that group of things out to kids. That could simply be a Google Slide or Apple Keynote. Or maybe you’ve made paper copies. Either works.
  • Ask groups to figure out what they have in common. And to use evidence to support their answer. This one seems pretty obvious. They’re clearly all delicious, healthy, heart-friendly snacks recommended by dieticians for game day football watching.
  • Once they all agree that these are at least all delicious, ask students to figure out Which One Doesn’t Belong. And depending on the group, that might be the pizza cause . . . the other three are clearly sandwich / bun / wrappy things. Or maybe it’s the tacos cause they’re usually spicy. Or the cheesesteak cause you can get the other things anywhere but the only place to get a really great cheesesteak is at Goodfellas on Kirkwood Highway.
  • Just about any answer is going to work as long as the group can develop evidence that supports their answer. Do this a couple of times. You might use sports teams, musical groups, movies, tv shows.

Once they’ve gotten the hang of things, you can move on to your social studies content and ask the same sort of questions – what do they have in common and which one doesn’t belong. And don’t be afraid to play around a bit with your sets. One might seem to be All Alike:

Or they might seem to be All Different:

These conversations might include some guided discussion, some whole group direct instruction, and some small group research. (I love the examplen of possible steps from our earlier link.) As your students start to get the hang of same and different, you’re ready to ramp up the cognitive load a bit. Start with the basics:

  • What do these women all have in common? How do you know?

If you’re doing this as a hook or introduction activity, students may need to do some research first with a simple 10 Minute Google Expert research project. They’ll discover that these are all American women’s rights activists. And this is where you change the next question just enough to mess with their heads. Instead of simply asking Which One Doesn’t Belong, you narrow the focus of the question:

  • Which of these was the most heroic? What’s your evidence?

We’ve got the same sort of question but now we’re encouraging student thinking in a more abstract way while at the same time allowing you to guide the direction of that thinking. Instead of heroic, maybe you ask:

  • Which of these was most effective? (Or overlooked? Or the most organized? Or had the most influence? Or . . . )

It’s the same sort of structure but your Which One Doesn’t Belong question changes depending on what content you’re hoping to have kids uncover.

Need another example? Ramp up the rigor even more by now putting conditions on the original question:

  • What do these people have in common? But . . . your answer has to be more than just “they’re all presidents.”

Eventually, as they research and chat with other groups, they’ll figure out that these are all War Presidents – War on Terror, Civil War, War of 1812, and World War II. Follow up this conversation with a similar question as with the women’s rights activists:

  • Which one was the most successful? (Or least successful? Or most popular? Or most electable? Or . . . ) What’s your evidence?

This activity works with all sorts of stuff. Events. Documents. Video clips. Audio. Historical movies. Maps. Artifacts. Maps and artifacts. But the goal in all of it is the same. Training kids to develop questions. To collect and organize evidence. And to use that evidence to make claims.

And I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the Project Zero Thinking Routine site over the last few months. They’ve got a very simple but powerful structure that seems perfect for this activity called, wait for it . . . Same and Different. Mashing this Thinking Routine together with Which One Doesn’t Belong can extend the conversations and the learning, including helping students make connections to other times and places. Don’t be afraid to go over there and poke around on your own. I guarantee that there are other routines that will work just as well.

And because all of this is super adaptable, you can change and rearrange however it works best for you and your kids.

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

He offers a variety of F2F and remote learning opportunities at Social Studies@ESSDACK designed just for you.

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