Decision Trees are a fun but effective way to get students reflecting carefully about the similarities and differences between various factors. They work on the same principle used by those questionnaires in time-killing magazines (“What is your ideal job?”) where each yes/no answer takes you down a different branch until you end up with a final answer to the central question, as in this example:
When studying Medieval religious beliefs and practices, provide students with a list of activities which people in the Middle Ages thought would help them get to heaven. Explain to students that they will be acting like a careers advisor to help people decide their ideal route to paradise.
They should do this by producing a decision-making tree to help people decide which “stairway to heaven” most closely matches their own personality, interests and abilities. For example, one question might be “Do you like travel?”. Students can draw up their findings as an A3 diagram, a mindmap, or even an interactive website if they are so inclined.
The crucial tip to give students is that they should aim to design questions which divide the remaining factors into two clear “Yes” and “No” categories. This is what really gets them thinking and reading carefully.
Alternatively, students could use the SmartArt > Hierarchy feature in Word to produce a particularly neat decision tree.
Taking it further
- Get students to test their decision trees out on each other in a ‘speed-dating’ format. They may spot how their original questions need to be amended.
- Make sure that details about each answer, rather than just (in this case) the job title is included. For display pieces, a particularly effective technique here would be to have each final answer in a ‘gift card / advent calendar’ format, where the viewer has to physically open up the card to learn more.
- Although the above example involves the teacher providing the initial information, an alternative approach could be for the teacher to simply provide a list, and for different students to research each one further before sharing their ideas as a group.
Suggested Topics for this approach (let me know of others!)
- “What is your perfect Victorian Job?” (History)
- “Which Roman Emperor do you have most in common with?” (History)
- “Which Shakespeare character are you?” (English)
- “Where is your ideal holiday destination?” (Geography)
- “Which entrepreneur do you have the most in common with?” (Business Studies)
Here are some photos shared by @AJMCrawford where his students adopted the approach to analyse why and with what justification Stalin blockaded Berlin: