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Probable Words

Stage: 1 Challenge Level: Challenge Level:1

Probable Words


Imagine it is the first day of the school holidays.

You ask your mum or dad or friend or gran or ... whether you can go to play in the park today.

What sorts of things might they say in reply?

Can you pick out the words which tell you how likely is it that you will actually go to the park in each case?

Can you put these words in an order from 'never' at one end to 'yes' at the other?

We would love to see your line of words.

Why do this problem?

This activity is very suitable for young pupils when they are just beginning to grapple with the ideas associated with probability. Pupils should be allowed to offer all kinds of words that they feel that have to do with "likelihood". The activity may be used as part of language development, as a catalyst for encouraging pupils to talk about their ideas using appropriate words.

Possible approach

The way you introduce this task will depend on the environment that you have in your classroom. It probably requires a situation where children are used to listening to each other and respect for other people's ideas is evident.
 
The context that you use as the basis for the activity will be best chosen to suit the learners. Ideally, you'll be able to make the most of a conversation that is already taking place rather than necessarily initiating the activity yourself completely from scratch. If an opportunity doesn't present itself, you could, for example, ask learners to imagine that it is the first day of the school holiday. What might they like to do? Take some suggestions and then focus on one of these, let's say 'go to the park'. Invite children to imagine that they asked a friend/mum/dad/gran etc. whether they could go to the park that day. Can they imagine what kind of reply they might get? Collect some ideas on the board, for example:
"Perhaps later."
"It's unlikely I'll have time."
"Maybe. If you're good."
To aid this part of the activity, you could have some words already written on the board or on cards which children might be able to use in sentences of their own.
 
Once you have got a range of words, explain that you need the whole group's help in ordering the cards on a line, from 'never' (or something similar like 'no') to 'yes' (or something similar like 'definitely'). You may like to give small groups their own cards to order rather than doing this as a whole-class activity.

Key questions

Tell me what your dad/mum/friend may say.
What do you think that means?
Where shall we put that word in our line?  

Possible extension

You may use this style of discussion in all sorts of other contexts, for example when considering words associated with hot and cold, light and heavy, etc.  

Possible support

Some pupils may need extra encouragement to help them express their words.  
 
 
You can read about some of the issues which might arise when teaching probability in this article.