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Lesson Ideas
Warm-up activities

Escaping Mind Traps

It is greater than God.
It is more evil than the devil.
Poor people have it. Rich people can't buy it.
If you eat it, you'll die.
What is it?


More consistently than anything else, problems like the one above engage my students.  They can be called conundrums or lateral thinking puzzles, but whatever they're named, they've worked in my classroom.

The process is simple.

  1. Select a challenging problem, but one you judge your students capable of solving.  The resources below are full of possibilities.

  2. Solve it to your own satisfaction, or look up the suggested solution.

  3. Write the problem you select on the board, or distribute it on slips of paper to your students.

  4. Announce that you will take questions about the problem that can be answered with a yes, a no or an irrelevant, one at a time from students who raise their hands.

  5. Based on the solution you have in mind, answer the students' questions.

  6. Once the students have solved the problem, or you've presented the solution after a stalemate, lead a class discussion to identify the assumptions, prejudices and or stereotypes that had to be made visible in order for the solution to appear.  (All problems like this are easily solved once unstated or unconscious assumptions, etc. are recognized and challenged.  This is why solutions more easily emerge from group action.  Alternative views are more likely to reside in groups than in a given individual.)

Resources to supplement and extend this activity

Books Web sites Other Lesson Ideas

Books, Games and Videos

These games present hundreds of mysteries, conundrums, trick questions and visual puzzles in a game format designed for team play.  However, the creative teacher can use them as described above too.  For sample questions and answers, click here.

There are no "viewers" for Brain Traps, only participants.  

While at their web site, look at the Communication Skills, Marketing and Persuasion, and Money and Consumer Skills sections too.

His books are available from

Here is a link to his web site.

Here is a link to his list of favorite lateral thinking puzzles.

Here is a link to his list of classic lateral thinking puzzles.

Here is a Google search link that will take you Paul Sloane's current presence on the web.

His books are available from

He also maintains a web site.

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Web sites

Easy problems

Medium problems

Hard problems

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Other Lesson Ideas

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In case you were wondering

"It", in the problem that opens this page, is nothing.  Substitute the word "nothing" for "it" throughout the problem and you'll see that nothing makes perfect sense.

Nothing is greater than God.
Nothing is more evil than the devil.
Poor people have nothing. Rich people can't buy nothing.
If you eat nothing, you'll die.

Most of us automatically assume that "it" has to be a thing, so we immediately start lists - looking for one item that meets all criteria.  Once we see that there is an alternative to some thing (namely no thing), the solution appears.

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copyright 2001-2009 All Rights Reserved.
original web posting: Saturday, March 10, 2001
last modified: Sunday, May 17, 2009