Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mystery Animal: a Voice Experiment You Can Do

I absolutely LOVE helping teachers incorporate activities that provide content, thinking skills, and so much more. It's not about every student producing "something". Instead, I keep in mind the 4 C's → Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity. 

And FUN!

It's no secret I 💕 Google. When I heard about "Mystery Animal" I had to check it out. Do you remember the game '20 Questions'? You have 20 yes-or-no questions in an attempt to figure out the secret person, place, or thing. Mystery Animal with Google DOES THIS ... but with a secret animal! Hello, Science!!! 

Think of everything this encourages students to do:

    • coming up with questions
    • deciding which questions should follow the prior one
    • logically thinking through characteristics
    • identifying characteristics of animals
    • coming to a conclusion within constraints

I've now done this activity with several groups of students, and each time, the kids love it. They beg to do it again and again. (Here's a little secret ... only ONCE have we actually guessed the animal correctly! That's right ... we only WON once! And they wanted to keep doing it!) I always introduce it as a whole class activity so no one feels too frustrated. You can totally do this free-form, but I like a little more structure the first time through.

I came armed with a deck of index cards and had the students pull out writing utensils. (See ... totally tech ANYONE can do!) I explained that we will only have 20 questions to figure out the secret animal.  As we came up with questions, we worked together to ensure they were:

  • yes or no (ex: Card 1 - is a mammal; Card 2 - not a mammal)
  • not TOO specific (ex: Card 1 - has feathers; Card 2 - no feathers)
  • helps narrow down further (ex: Card 1 - has gills; Card 2 - no gills)
  • provides characteristics (ex: Card 1 - long neck; Card 2 - short neck)

We brainstormed as a class until every student had a question. I reminded students they had to speak CLEARLY and LOUD enough that the teachers computer could hear and then we turned on Mystery Animal and went to work! The students did GREAT! Every few questions, we paused to remind ourselves of previous answers (not a mammal, no feathers, no horn, lives in the water, etc). This helped us decide what our next question should be. LOTS of critical thinking!!! 

Quiet students spoke up. Chatty students remained quiet. We worked together. We discussed in our table groups. We brainstormed and reasoned out whether this animal or that animal worked. We built on our previously asked questions.

In one particular round, we found out that the secret animal was a shark. We had guessed that in our discussion, but Google had told us it wasn't a mammal, so we didn't make that guess. We all believed sharks were mammals because they had live births. We were super disappointed ... but we immediately "Googled" where we went wrong (found out sharks aren't mammals - they are actually a species of fish). What a learning experience! 

Content or Age Appropriateness
Any grade and any age. Just be conscious about the students ability to come up with questions that will work. The younger they are, the more prep might be needed to make sure the game provides a learning experience. Identifying the difference between "good" and "better" questions is really hard without guidance!

And, don't be afraid to throw questions out afterwards. Example, we asked Google if the animal was dangerous. Google didn't understand us. We decided that if Google didn't understand 'dangerous' this time, Google probably wouldn't another time. We decided that we wouldn't want to "waste" that question in another round. We talked about how we could reword it and rewrote it.

Ideas of Going Beyond or Other Uses

  • CAN be an activity you do when you have a spare 5-10 minutes. This means the students have to come up with questions on their own and in real time. Challenging!
  • time can be a factor ... maybe it pushes the thinking to happen quicker, or you don't finish the game. 
  • easily use in Science during a unit on studying animals.
  • use in ELA when you are discussing characteristics.
  • ANY subject when you want to develop overall critical thinking skills and/or speaking skills.
  • indoor recess? If you have access to more than one internet capable device, small groups can work through this process. 
  • an individual activity for fast finishers.
I've also thought of ways you could help students organize the questions and answers. I love the index cards because they are real tangible ways to sort and organize the responses. Another idea could be to write out on paper all the questions and mark Y or N next to them - students can then see the questions they've asked as well as the answers to them. Challenge students to not write either the questions OR responses - talk about working on memory skills!?!

*** Update (03/26/2018) → I've created a Google Doc [LINK] you are welcome to make your own copy of & add/subtract questions. This can be helpful for younger students to have models of yes/no questions about animal characteristics. Feel free to use/modify!


Mystery Animal with Google [website]

Thanks to the 4th graders who were brave enough to do this for the first time with me.

Thanks to the 3rd graders who were bummed when the animal was shark (and we knew it!) but didn't let that dampen their enjoyment and desire to do it again!

Enjoy! I know you'll love it!


  1. I was missing half my 7th grade class today and needed a filler. They struggled with the first animal (sea horse), but were able to identify the next 4 (dog,lion, polar bear, and ostrich) in 8 questions or less! It was fun seeing their thoughts grow and ask appropriate questions.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed! Seeing students grow and learn how to ask good questions is truly wonderful.