Reading time: 4

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

How do you start the day?

One way of starting your morning and afternoon sessions is with an amuse-bouche or amuse-cerveau, a little something to whet the intellectual appetites of your class. These activities might be related to what follows in the main course of a lesson, but mostly they aren’t as they are registration fillers.

Amuse-bouches are intentionally brief and bite-sized brain snacks designed to be tasty and thought-provoking.

Amuse-bouche means mouth pleasing or ‘it entertains the mouth’ and in the restaurant world, this is a complimentary appetiser served before a meal. Those of you who dine out a Michelin-starred establishments will be used to them!

What Colour Is Wednesday?

In the classroom, an amuse-bouche is food for the brain, but one that makes students smile. They draw on lots of ingredients such as Rebus puzzles, lateral thinking problems, posers, riddles, anagrams, wonderments and philosophical questions to fire new connections and get the brain loosened up and agile. They might be words or pictures or both. Short and sweet, they can be ‘serious’ or silly so long as they get the brain moving independently or to discuss with a partner.

Amuse-bouches aren’t intended to be any more than just a couple of minutes, but they can easily hijack a lesson!

One resource that I have used for my own amuse-bouches, is The Little Book Of Thunks by Ian Gilbert.

A thunk is defined as, “a beguiling question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks and helps you start to look at the world in a whole new light.”

Despite the clunky name, ‘thunks’ have always proved to be useful and popular brain-snacks for students to taste and mull over.

Some examples from Ian Gilbert’s book include:

  • If dropping litter is a bad thing, would it be better if I bury my Mars wrappers in the ground like the council does?
  • Which is the more important invention – the telescope or the microscope?
  • Is it ever OK to cheat?
  • Can you touch a rainbow?
  • If I read a comic in a shop without paying for it is that stealing?
  • Does a mouse have a soul?

Another book I use for ideas that follows a very similar theme is 365 Things To Make You Go HMMM … by Paul Wrangles and Ruth Wrangles.

This book contains ideas to help nurture a questioning culture, encourage openness, develop class relationships and boost a range of skills including creative thinking, problem-solving and a sense of awe and wonder about the world.

It’s a book for taking your class on ‘a controlled tangent’ and is bursting with amuse-bouches, starters, main courses and desserts. For example, some questions to befuddle and entertain include:

  • What life lessons could you learn from a seagull?
  • Name as many things as you can that have got an eye but cannot see?
  • Come up with four ways to draw a sheep that don’t actually involve drawing a sheep?
  • If you woke up tomorrow with no fear, what would you do first?
  • What are the three ‘NEVER’s of your life?
  • How can you trust something or someone you can’t see?

Thunks and Hmmms are thought grenades and reading these ideas always sparks other ideas. So here are some examples of my own which may be useful as food for thought brain snacks:

What if..

  • there was only one religion?
  • you could only communicate in the style of a musical?
  • everyone had the same surname?
  • there was no colour blue?
  • all countries were islands?
  • schools had no playgrounds?
  • you could never turn left?

(see What if? by Robert Ehrlich for some brilliant What if..questions)

Alternative Uses

  • How many uses can you think of for a paperclip?
  • How many uses can you think of for a spoon?
  • How many uses can you think of for a car tyre?
  • How many uses can you think of for a brick?
  • How many uses can you think of for a slipper?
  • How many uses can you think of for a button?
  • How many uses can you think of for a matchbox?

Surreal questions

  • What would an infinity elephant say to a Russian nesting doll?
  • What would the floor say to the ceiling if they could speak?
  • How would you wash an angry emotion?
  • Is giraffe a good name for a giraffe?
  • What would a hawk say to a drone?
  • Can a dream dream?
  • Is a grain of sand more useful than a grapefruit seed?

Big Questions

  • Why isn’t the Earth called Water if it is 2/3 water and 1/3 land?
  • Why don’t birds fly upside down?
  • Is it possible for a fish to drown?
  • Can a shadow feel any pain?
  • Does a caterpillar have a brain and if so what does it look like?
  • How much water does it take to make a book?
  • Can a volcano ever spurt ice?

Would you rather …?

  • Would you rather be a fly or a butterfly?
  • Would you rather be fire or water?
  • Would you rather be an adjective or a noun?
  • Would you rather be able to speak 12 languages or play 12 instruments?
  • Would you rather have hands for feet or feet for hands?
  • Would you rather be covered in hair or have no hair at all?
  • Would you rather have three eyes and two hearts or three ears and two brains?

The bottom line is feed, feed, feed. Whatever spare moments you may have, never waste a second to ask a question, to ruffle feathers and to nourish thinking with some mental minerals.

Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat, it feeds it.

2 thoughts on “Amuse-Bouches

  1. Thanks for the mention!

    Some of those additional questions made us smile:
    “Morning 6M. Today as you know we’ve got an inspector in… Welcome, Mr Thomas – we hope you’ll join in with us in only communicating in the style of a musical!”

    Think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that last quote. It’s not about getting students to do something fun while we take the register (although they can be fun). It’s about provoking thought and, as you say, “ruffle feathers”. Love that metaphor.

    Every day we try to post a new “Hmmm” here:
    which will give you a taster of the amuse bouches (if you can have such a thing). The book is similar to the web page, but better!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.