Level: minimum beginner questioners, no maximum.


This activity will exercise English question formation skills, listening skills, and short term memory for important details. Given practice, this activity will also exercise the logical thinking skills of classification and narrowing topics.


This activity was developed from a variety of question/answer games that people play at parties or to kill time while traveling.


So that students have an opportunity to learn good strategies before participating in a class competition, this activity has a pre-competition exercise.


The object of the game is for one player to think of a specific person or object that is commonly known, and for the other players to take turns asking yes or no questions until the correct person or object has been discovered.

Pre-competition Exercise:

  1. Divide the class into groups of five or six members, assuring a variety of native language speakers in each group.
  2. Order the group members alphabetically by first name.
  3. Take about one minute to silently think decide on a specific person or object, and remember your idea.
  4. Beginning with the student to the left of the first answerer, questioners take turns asking yes or no questions. Questioners may ask only yes or no questions. The answer may respond with only a [b]yes[/b] or [b]no[/b]. If the answer is [b]sometimes[/b] or [b]it depends[/b], the answer will be [b]yes[/b]. You may bend the rules and say [b]sometimes[/b].
  5. Continue the questioning process until the answerer's idea is discovered. Then it is the next answerer's turn.
  6. Play continues until all group members have had a turn being answerer.

Competition Exercise:

  1. Divide the class into groups of five or six members. Try to minimize the number of groups, perhaps allowing seven members in a group, but usually more than seven members limits the opportunity to contribute ideas.
  2. Order the group members alphabetically and tell them to remember their order.
  3. If this is the first time the groups will compete against each other, take some time to discuss strategies learned in the pre-competition activity. What are the characteristics of a difficult idea to guess? What are the characteristics of questions that quickly narrow down possible answers?
  4. Instruct each group to decide on their first idea for the opposing team to guess. The opposing team will be limited to 21 yes or no questions. (Your teacher may increase the number of possible questions to suit the class needs.)
  5. Use some random and fair method for determining the first team to be the questioners.
  6. Send a representative from the answerer team to the front of the room. Remind this team member that only yes or no answers are permitted. Decide on a policy for [b]sometimes[/b] as an answer.
  7. Questioners will be limited to 21 questions. They will take turns asking their questions in their alphabetical order. They will have 30 seconds to discuss each question before asking it. They must attempt to ask grammatically complete questions. Incorrect grammar is acceptable, but single word questions or questions lacking a subject or predicate are not acceptable and will be disqualified.
  8. When either the answerer team's idea is discovered, or twenty one questions have passed, the teams switch roles. Your teacher should keep track of the number of questions asked, watch the clock for the 30 second time limit, and keep score for teams that succeed in guessing ideas.
  9. The game is over when the members of both teams have all had turns being the answerers.
  10. The winning team is the one that succeeds in guessing the majority of ideas correctly.

Extension/Enrichment Discussion Activity:

Given time, discuss the following question strategy issues:

From Wikipedia-- "The game suggests that the information (as measured by Shannon's entropy statistic) required to identify an arbitrary object is about 20 bits. The game is often used as an example when teaching people about information theory. Mathematically, if each question is structured to eliminate half the objects, 20 questions will allow the questioner to distinguish between 2 to the 20th power, or 1,048,576 subjects. Accordingly, the most effective strategy for Twenty Questions is to ask questions that will split the field of remaining possibilities roughly in half each time. The process is analogous to a binary search algorithm in computer science."

  1. If the secret thought can be anything in human common knowledge, what question would instantly eliminate half of all known "things"? Is it a living thing?
  2. If the secret thought is a nonliving thing, what question would instantly eliminate half of all known nonliving things? Can it be found anywhere? (Is it ubiquitous?)
  3. If the secret thought is a living thing, what question would instantly eliminate half of all known living things? Is it an animal? Is it an invertebrate? etc.