Two-footed Questions for Whole Brain Adventures

Minds-in-Bloom is excited to present Dr. Ellen Weber’s post on developing both brain hemispheres!
Imagine wooing your students into the high arctic for an afternoon sledding adventure they’ll both relish and remember. Two-footed questions such as, What if you led your dog team to an outpost camp? trigger adventures for many different learners. How does it work?
Students leap to questions that integrate their right and left brain capabilities in fun ways. You’ll especially enjoy how they develop key intelligences across both brain hemispheres. In your class?Let’s say you teach a unit on Inuit lifestyles, for instance. Students love to investigate with two feet and stoke discovery through talents that go hidden or unused in many classes. They’ll come to expect a dynamic sense of wonder when two-webbed-queries are used to stoke motivation at your starting gates.

Before Lessons – Two-Footed Questions Build Curiosity

For a class titled, A Day in the Life of Inuit Students, ask for example, What do Inuit students see when they first awaken, that you’d likely not see from your bedroom window?

You might also ask: Which part of an Inuit school day would most interest you and your friends?



From Teacher-led to Student-led QuestionsDisplay scenes embedded in this Inuit Inuksuk art created by my daughter, Tanya Weber DeRoo, and challenge students to create their own two-footed questions.
Ask, What image etched into this Inuksuk would you like to learn more about? Students also enjoy concreting their own questions from visuals, and will come up with queries that pique their unique interests.

You might define the Inuktitut word inuksuk (which means “like a human”) and have students recreate an inuksuk rock pile as Inuit do to mark locations or to adorn a significant scene.

Guide students to step one foot into Inuit facts, and the other foot into their own interests. They may investigate, for instance:

  • What would it be like to be a seal in the high arctic?
  • How would you and your friends stay warm in an igloo?
  • How would you prevent permafrost from freezing your house on Baffin?
  • What would it be like to travel in an Inuit amauti or hood?
  • How would you raise a winning dog team on Baffin Island?
  • How would you plan ahead if you knew only one supply ship arrived yearly?
  • How would you teach a younger peer to hunt at the arctic flow edge?
2-footed questions - Mind Blooms 

Right and Left Brain StrengthsQuestions above use students’ left brain’s verbal abilities to articulate ideas, while nudging right brain’s visual abilities to imagine or wonder about Inuit students’ high arctic surroundings.

In response to these questions, students might sketch scenery outside their window compared to an Inuit’s view in Igloolik. They’d likely discuss why no trees or cars exist and explain how dog teams pull siblings to school. Or perhaps they’d create a children’s book to teach a younger friend about favorite Inuit stories. In either case they draw on several intelligences to respond.


 During Lessons – Two-footed Questions Animate TargetsLet’s say another lesson goal for your arctic unit targets Inuit hunting practices that support isolated communities. Students may research a narwhal hunt for instance, and then make decisions about the dangers young hunters face. Perhaps they’ll illustrate how to navigate Baffin’s frigid waters that rush and rock in unpredictable rhythms against fifteen foot ice chunks.

Use this two-footed question to keep learners engaged: What preparations would you make to hunt at dangerous arctic floe edges where polar sea adventures take place on Baffin Island?

Students respond with their left brain’s logical abilities as they sequence arctic hunters’ skills. They also awaken right brain story-telling abilities when they capture and share Inuit hunting tales as they see or might experience them.

Do your students enjoy ocean life? If so, challenge them to compare arctic narwhal sounds to familiar whale communications, by asking: How would you compare narwhal sounds to beluga sounds and what do these sounds tell you?

Answers will vary but may include the fact that belugas make more human like sounds and mimic vocals in heavily populated areas, while narwhals’ clicks, squeals, trills and whistles help in navigation and hunting adventures.

Concluding Lessons – Two-Footed Questions Fuse Art and Science Takeaways It’s a bit like splashing radiant colors onto canvass so that both sides of your own brain leaps into life. Two-footed questions convert ordinary minds into expert problem solvers, by engaging both sides of the brain. Simply stated they unleash beauty within art and unpack discovery within science.

Your students will challenge both intellect and emotions, as they interweave differences across their brains in ways that rock both science and art into action. The two-footed questions simply set the stage for problem-solving, invite ambiguity and elicit discovery, as illustrated below:

One foot asks: What are the main points, functions or problems? – which invite students to consider, compare or analyze content. The answers to one-footed questions provide facts to engage, but fail to engage the learner’s interest to apply innovations that draw on these facts.

Would you agree that’s why significant change rarely occurs from some typical lessons learned?

Foot two asks:how will these facts jumpstart your own actions? You could say that the second foot jump starts adventure. How so?
Check out the questions in this post to see action is generated from new facts or concepts. It’s quite straightforward, yet it requires a two – pronged design to draw from both sides of the brain.

To design two-footed questions for any unit or lesson, ask yourself:

  • Will the question lead to investigation and original applications?
  • Will challenges lead to novel actions that can be evidenced?
  • Will responses integrate arts and sciences, much as inventors do?
  • Will students find good motivation to sustain future investigations?
  • Did the question motivate personal involvement to answer?
  • Will students care enough to invest curiosity and enthusiasm?
  • Will responses include and engage opposing views?
  • Will the query lead to further reflections, such as “where to from here?”
  • Was there opportunity to play with, What if possibilities?
Additional 2-footed questions for your Inuit lifestyle unit:
  • What parts of an Inuit community could unlock new adventures in yours?
  • What dreams might an Inuit student share with you and your friends?
  • What climate concerns do you share with Inuit leaders?
  • How would you prepare a typical Inuit meal for your friends?
  • What music would you and Inuit students most enjoy together?
  • What do you share in common with Inuit students and how do you differ?
  • What would you want to learn first before moving into an Inuit community?
In conclusion, how would you answer the two-footed challenge: Do your questions compel students to answer and apply content in real life adventures? Adventure-driven questions for instance, create simplicity out of complexity, and draw students into dynamic innovations with mind-bending outcomes.What will you ask to spark wonder in your next class?

EllenBrain7 Yes, you may have guessed – I actually lived and taught in Canada’s most isolated high arctic communities, where winter weather can plummet to 90 degrees below zero, where the sun fails to rise for weeks in the winter, and where Inuit residents engaged me in endless adventures in response to my double-sided queries.Details are elaborated further at John Hopkins University, illustrated at Stanford University, and embedded within student-ready tasks at Ellen’s TPT Store.

Two-Footed Questions are also illustrated in Dr. Ellen Weber’s book, Mita Strategies in the Classroom and Beyond: Using Roundtable Learning, originally published (2005) with Pearson Education Inc., New York: NY.


20 Questions to Ask Students
72 Creative Ways to show what students know

13 thoughts on “Two-footed Questions for Whole Brain Adventures”

  1. Robyn McMaster, PhD

    Ellen, thanks for an in-depth explanation of how teachers might motivate students to answer questions about course content more creatively. Not only did you provide ways to use two-footed questions with students, but you took it a step further by showing teachers how to use these as they create lessons.

    Thanks for sharing this awesome questioning tactic which I've had the privilege of seeing in action to bring a college class alive!

  2. Thanks Robyn, you hit on a passion of mine, since I still regret all the class time wasted in response to one-footed questions that create sleepy responses with cookie cutter edges!

    Just yesterday we watched fire sweep through a group of learners when we tossed out a few sizzling 2-footed questions. What follows reminds me why I entered this field in the first place:-)

    Best, Ellen

  3. This is so interesting, and something that I need to remember while teaching my PreK students. It's never too young to start! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Interesting that you mention age Yay for PreK – as I too have found these to bring alive my 4 year old grandson, who just started Pre-K.

    The last one I asked him was, "If you were Yoda, what would you do to rescue this kitten?"

    That's all I needed to say and Hendrik was on it…:-)

    Sometimes I ask students – What question would you most like to be asked about this project or topic?

    That too moves them deeper the two-footed way:-)

  5. Brain Waves Instruction

    Just like the purpose of two-footed questions, this post has gotten me thinking. Well done! Thanks for showing us how to help our students become deeper thinkers.

  6. Thanks Brain Waves Instruction! I'm with you — let's step with them deeper and be led by them wider — into the good stuff.

    No wonder Einstein associated the best of learning with play! Two-footed questions can simply skip us there:-)

  7. Joy, thanks for your kind words, and thanks for the inspiration that we can all help one another to think in new ways!

    No wonder our students love it when we challenge them in a similar manner to think and run after a new adventure!

    Nice way to start another week – thanks to you! Ellen

  8. I love how two-footed questions result in the best kind of learning possible — grabbing students' attention and getting them deeply engaged in topics they may otherwise find uninteresting . . . AND getting them thinking critically while they're having fun!

  9. Thanks Sherri – you and I are rolling along the same pathway on this one.

    Often we ensure that very small children have fun as they learn, yet we forget to pop the play back into learning adventures for all students in ways that you mention above.

    Thanks for the fun reminder Sherri, and count me in!

  10. Ellen,
    What a well written post! Two-footed questions scream 'Kindergarten' to me! As a kindergarten teacher, I can clearly see the difference in student engagement when leading with two-footed questions as opposed to one-footed questions. When engagement is up, poor behaviors decrease. Two-footed questions are a win-win!

  11. Aww — thanks! I have to agree and I can make the same case for these zingers at graduate level university and beyond. The one-footed hobblers bore and stall us all:-)

    Madeleine L'Engle got it right when she said the toddlers can teach us most anything — if we only listen more to them.

    Seems true with all learners who find ways to speak up and feel heard in response to two-footed questions.

    I love to see students lead these kinds of questions too — that's where action sizzles! Writing this post reminded me to ask far more and far better — and on a good day this week I hope to get it right. Hoping all your days are GOOD:-) Best, Ellen

  12. I am Bullyproof Music - Lessia Bonn

    This is GREAT. I actually came back to read it twice! For one thing, my youngest just spent two months teaching kids in the Alaskan tundra so you had my attention at the get go.
    I remember once in MS a teacher asked us to answer some questions like these in detail. I LOVED it, wasn't bored for once, but another girl, a straight A student who I knew well became very annoyed and confused. It wasn't linear enough for her. Here's to getting kids to open up their minds and imaginations. Again, love this!

  13. Wow – thanks for your interest and kind words Lessia. I'd like to address the "bored" student.

    That student is simply acting from her brain's "basal ganglia" response where she has stored reactions to learning in a certain way. It's normal – and also it's a change to woo her into delightful new adventures.

    I've seen teachers shift too fast and not grade fairly afterwards — so that bright students hate the change.

    Much to think about when we transform traditional classes into active whole brain settings. Fun!
    Love the end results — when it is done well:-)

    Loved your comment and reminders here!

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