Classic Exercises and Why They Work in the 21st Century (Hanna Kryszewska)

Csilla Jaray-Benn's picture

Session review, Tuesday 14th April

Hanna teaches both at the Uniwersytet Gdanski in Poland and for Pilgrims Language Courses. She is an active member of The C Group and dedicated to developing and promoting principles and techniques for creative teaching. (

Hanna addresses an issue, which came up in several sessions at this conference, namely the importance of expanding classroom activities to having more than one possible correct answer, thus enabling students to think critically and creatively. Or, as Hanna puts it, “escaping the tyranny of the right answer”. Given the fact we learn best through what we see and hear, the ‘visible thinking’ framework is based on the simple core idea of making thinking more visible through certain ‘thinking routines’. Such routines are aimed at fostering students’ thinking skills and creativity, and sparking their curiosity. Educators who adopt a ‘visible thinking’ framework are invited to implement thinking routines, grouped as follows:

  • Core routines;
  • Fairness routines;
  • Truth routines;
  • Creativity routines.

Hanna provides several examples of how to make thinking become visible. One of the classic activities is the ‘Zoom in’ routine or the ‘Chalk talk’. She shows her students a painting of a lady who’s her arms and legs are crossed and asks them to stick Post-it notes on the painting with either comments about the painting or questions for the painter.

Another set of activities can be used for synthesising and organising ideas; from generating ideas, to sorting, connecting and elaborating on them.

Hanna presents a poem to her students and encourages them to pose questions that the poem might trigger. This is a lovely way of encouraging students to have their own ideas while “escaping the tyranny of the right answer”. Poems can of course be replaced by any other piece of artwork or literature. (Link to Hanna’s poem

Based on the classic ‘tug-o-war’, the Tug-of-war Opinions Game is an excellent activity for getting students to dig deeper into their ideas. Students working in small groups are asked to express an opinion for or against a controversial issue. They then listen to each other’s opinions, discuss and prioritise them, or group them according to the depth of their opinion. This activity encourages students to interpret a given topic and express their opinion, while helping to create a learning community and develop critical thinking skills. Once again, this activity seeks to avoid the ‘one correct answer’ syndrome.

Hanna suggests the intensive experience of critical thinking can be made lighter by adapting some of the classic activities from the social constructivist movement. Here are a few examples: 

  1. Get to know you
    * Each student writes numbers that are important to them and others guess what the numbers mean for that person.
    * Students mingle and find two things they have in common with four other people. Having done this, they draw their hands on a piece of paper, noting the things they all have    in common. Through this activity, the class becomes a visible community.
  2. Thank you for…
    Students stick a piece of paper on their back with the words Thank you for … and walk around the classroom. Their peers finish the sentence with something they want to thank them for, e.g. “lending me your pen/your jokes/your ideas”, etc. The activity creates an environment of both learning and support.
  3. Humanism: overcoming the “tyranny of the correct answer”
    The classic match-the-question-to-the-correct-answer exercise can be adapted in a way that students need to match not the only correct answers, but also the most appropriate answers. 
  4. Parallel writing activity for reading comprehension
    This activity is based on the fact that comprehension of the text and understanding of the text are not the same. Hanna presents her students with a text and asks them to write questions to which there are no answers. Another group then writes an alternative text, based on those questions. This activity can give the course book a second life.
    Hanna presented several other ‘visible thinking’ activities, which demonstrate how learners can take initiatives and become active agents of their own learning. She concludes that using the ‘visible thinking’ framework is a very effective way of preparing young adults for the 21st century where the most valued skills are creativity, communication, critical thinking, media and information literacy, problem-solving.

You can read more on ‘visible thinking’ at or contact Hanna by email: