I spent most of last week with 14 great social studies teachers from the Topeka Public Schools. TPS is working hard to incorporate historical thinking skills into their everyday instruction. One of the methods they’re using to measure student learning are Document-Based Questions. But we also spent some talking about effective classroom strategies. And Tim, who teaches at Highland Park HS, shared something who uses that I thought was just pretty cool and fairly simple.

Tim has adapted the old To Tell the Truth television game show as a review activity before quizzes and tests. The show ran in different formats from 1956 to 2002. If you’ve never seen the show, the basic idea is simple: a panel of four celebrities attempt to correctly identify a contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience.

This central character is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character. The celebrity panelists question the three contestants; the impostors are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth.” After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth by voting.


Use the idea in your class by first selecting who you want the three contestants to be. Develop a series of questions that the panel can ask during your “show.” These questions should focus on people, places, events and ideas related to the person who the contestants will represent.

How you pick the three contestants and four panel members is up to you. But the activity will be more fun if the contestants are good “actors,” they should also be fairly good students since they will have to both tell the truth and lie at times. Once the contestants are selected, have them go into the hall, prep a bit by reviewing the questions and decide amongst themselves who will be the actual person.

They also need to be reminded that the “real” person must always tell the truth. The other two are allowed to make up whatever they want in response to the questions.

Select a panel of four and provide them with the set of questions. Begin the game by having the panel ask questions, rotating one after the other. They should work to balance the questions among all three contestants.

Once all of the questions have been asked, the panel votes and explains why they voted they way they did. You should now have the rest of the class vote by signing their names to a Post-It note and the number of the contestant they think is the “real” person.

Contestants get an extra credit point for each person (panel or audience) who votes for them. The panel gets an extra credit point if they correctly guess who is telling the truth. They also get a point for audience member who voted the same way. So . . . the panel and contestants get extra credit but not the audience. The idea is to encourage more students to join the panel and contestant row.

I think you could modify this a bit by having kids develop their own sets of questions. You could do an event or primary document instead of a person. And with a bit of prep, you could use this as a hook activity at the beginning of a unit rather than at the end.

How would you adapt this?

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend