Provocation is as a technique used to prompt pupils to take control of their own learning, by getting inside problems and issues, to find appropriate ways forward. The use of ‘provocation’ opens up many possibilities. Reflective questions prompt learners to apply the concepts to their own situations in meaningful ways.

“The generation of ‘New Millenium Learners’ is characterised by multitasking,short attention spans and gaining information in non-linear ways.” Pedro 2006.

As educators we need to stimulate the ‘New Millenium Learners’ in our classes, to provide them with pathways and questions that will inspire them in their own learning. Using Learning Provocations transforms the teacher from the ‘dictator at the front’ to a ‘creator of learning’.

A provocation should stimulate curiosity and open mindedness and prepare the brain for learning. They could be a Thunk, a Curiosity or a Challenge.


A thunk is a question that has no right or wrong answer but makes you think! This prepares the learner to be open-minded and consider various options. For example-

• If you always got what you wished for would you always be happy?

• Where does the sky begin?

• What has the most freedom an ant or a school child?

• Is a person who has a face transplant still the same person?

• Which is heavier an inflated or deflated balloon?

(Thunks from ‘The Little Book of Thunks’ by Ian Gilbert (Crownhouse)


Videos can also be used as Thunks. Art is especially good for stimulating questions-look at this video by the artist  William Lamson and think of two questions.



These are two websites that have ‘Thinking Challenges’ that can be used to facilitate learning and start debate.

Critical Thinking Puzzles 




How many animals can you spot in this picture?


This is from a site called ‘Build your Wild Self’ it allows you to create a picture of a new creature made up of parts from different animals. You could use this as a lesson on report writing-pupils create their own animal then have to write about where it lives, what it eats, etc. Don’t just see Thunks as stand-alone thinking exercises-they can lead to more meaningful learning experiences and long-term projects.


Spark learners thinking by showing or not showing them! Provocations that will spark interest make students want to know more.

A curiosity could be-

A box, which they have to guess the contents of.

• A wig or hat that someone can try on and guess the character it belongs to.

• Guess what the object could be and what it is used for.

or how about using a message in a bottle? Pupils have to use clues in the message to work out sent it, etc. Here’s an example of a real message found in 2009

Dear Wife,

I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it in the sea to see if it will reach you.

If it does, sign this envelope on the right hand bottom corner where it says receipt. Put the date and hour of receipt and your name where it says signature and look after it well.

Tat-ta sweet, for the present.

Your Hubby

This message was dropped in the sea more than 85 years ago. The letter was written to his wife by a World War 1 soldier and tossed into the English Channel as he left to fight in France.

But it was only discovered in the River Thames by fisherman Steve Gowan in March 2009.

Two days after writing the message in 1914, Private Thomas Hughes, 26 of Stockton-on-Tees was killed.

This curiosity could lead to a research project on World War 1 or a Geography lesson on mapping the journey of the bottle.


There’s even a web 2.0 version of the message in a bottle! It’s called OceanGram and you can write and receive messages from virtual bottles.


I very much see new technology and Web 2.0 tools as Learning Provocations-used in the right way it can put you right at the heart of real life learning. You can immerse yourself in the impossible and virtually be anywhere your imagination takes you.


Panorama 360

Who says you can’t visit the moon! During all the missions to the moon they made image sequences which with today’s computer technics can be stitched together into 360 degree interactive panoramas giving you the possibility to view the moon almost as you were there.


A Creative Challenge

“The value of creative expression should be judged by the learners themselves.” Runco, 2003

Thinking Challenges have no right or wrong answer you concentrate on the process and not the end product. The challenge could be based on a question, hypothesis or event-like these-

First pop song you ever heard and the one you heard most recently.

• Guess the most common and least common food that everyone in the room had for breakfast.

• Draw a collaborative scribble and then write down all the objects you can see (a bit like Cloud shape guessing)


Mission:Explore is an amazing collection of resources,including 3 books, a website and an iphone app. Mission:Explore is all about exploring and seeing the world in new ways. You complete creative outdoor missions and learn new stuff along the way.

Mission:Explore was created by  The Geography Collective, who are a group of Geography explorers, activists, teachers, artists and Guerrillas.

Take a look at the website but one of the books, brilliant for when you’re stuck for a bit of creative inspiration!


LEG-Learning Event Generator

John Davitt’s amazing Learning Event Generator-does what it says on the tin. It’s a learning tool that challenges both student and teacher to produce an event based on a randomly chosen method. Hugely entertaining and very creative. Here’s some of the random selections-

  • do how a light works as an illustrated diagram
  • do glaciation as a 10 second movie shot on a mobile phone
  • do life cycle of tadpole as a tableau maybe with Playmobil/clay models



Collaborative Drawing


Collaborative drawing is another fantastic Learning Provocation, set pupils a challenge to draw an object together or draw an imaginary scene as a group without talking!

Three great free examples are

Twiddla-Not only can you draw at ease, but there’s no setup involved, so you can get going straight away and start sharing Word documents, web pages, images and collaborative documents. The ability to modify and draw on top of websites alone makes it worth your while checking out, simply input the URL you want to talk about, invite your collaborators, and away you go, you can highlight the parts you like, the bits you need changed, and save your work easily. you draw over any website with others!

Netsketch-Netsketch have taken the collaborative drawing concept to the smartphone, and developed the first application which allows you to draw on your iPhone or iPad with other people.

For other examples try this great blog post ‘7 of the best online collaborative drawing tools’ by Paul Anthony


Problem Solving games

Using a Web based problem solving game is another way to set a creative challenge for your pupils.

No question the best designed,stimulating and creative problem solving Web games are by a company called Amanita Design. They produced the BBC revise wise Y6 SATs game Questionaut and are responsible for Samorost 1 & Samorost 2 and Machinarium.



The player interacts with the world with simple point and click interface directing a small, white-clad humanoid with a little cap and brown boots The goal of the Samorost games is to solve a series of puzzles and brain teasers. The puzzles are sequentially linked forming an adventure story. The game contains no inventory or dialogue, and the solving of puzzles mainly consists of clicking onscreen elements in the correct order. Solving a puzzle will immediately transport the player character to the next screen.


Auditorium is a beautiful maths based problem solving game. Auditorium is about the process of discovery and play. There are no right or wrong answers; there are many ways to solve every puzzle.


I hope you find these links interesting-The overall aim is to create “space” for learners to get involved. Instead of closing down inquiry by filling in all of the gaps with answers and authoritative expert advice, provocation is used to open up inquiry through use of open-ended queries, paradox, presentation of multiple views, rich examples, thought-provoking images and reflective questions that encourage learners to take ownership of their own learning and meet context-specific learning needs.

Please add your recommendations-I’d love to hear them.

Written by Julian S Wood -"rel="author"
About me
UK Primary School Future Learning Technologist.I am into Experience and Fun Based Learning.I use web tools to stimulate writing. I've been Playing and Learning since 1970. Have some fabulous ideas now & again.. Check out my profile!
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