Essay Planning: Killing The Question

This is an idea that I found on an old Rachel Whitfield blog page that I’ve pimped-up a bit but which is essentially her’s – although part of the attraction, for me, was that it fitted quite neatly into my own ideas about Sociology students taking on the role of Sociological Detectives.

PowerPoint Walkthrough

In this particular case the role-playing scenario is an essay-planning exercise that can be run at any point in a course although I guess it would probably be most effective at the end of a Module, such as Crime and Deviance, when your students are likely to have a good familiarity with the content required to answer an essay-type question.

Although the following details how to run the revision sim I’ve put together a short PowerPoint Presentation that walks you through the process if you need it.


1, Create a Crime Scene. This is simply a “chalk body outline” that you can create in a number of ways: virtually using an online Whiteboard, in the classroom using a physical Whiteboard or even using a volunteer around which to draw a chalk outline on the floor of a classroom or similar space.

2. Sticky Notes. If possible you should use 3 different coloured pads: 1 for theorists / theories, 1 for criticisms of theories and one for any conclusions drawn about the question.

3. An exam question. This should be a relatively high-mark essay-type to make the preparation worthwhile, although there’s nothing to stop you running an exercise using a number of low-mark questions if you want.  For our current purpose I’ve chosen a fairly generic (AQA) 30-mark essay question:

Evaluate the usefulness of functionalist approaches in understanding crime and deviance”.

4. If you want to provide extra “Evidence” for your students (to reflect the stimulus material provided by some exam boards) you’ll need to prepare a couple of Sticky Notes to use as and if required. For example:


Some functionalist sociologists argue that crime and deviance are caused by the inability of some people to gain the rewards of society, for example because of educational underachievement. Those members of society whose opportunities are blocked cannot achieve the goals of society by socially approved means”.

Play Time…

1. Divide the students up into small groups, explain what they’re about to do and reveal the crime scene. In this instance I’m assuming the use of a body outline drawn on a Whiteboard in the classroom.

2. Write the revision question on the body outline and distribute the coloured Sticky Note pads (as you’ll see from the PowerPoint, I’ve used a yellow pad for Theorists / Theories, a red pad for Criticisms and a blue pad for Conclusions).

3. In their groups, students need to identify evidence that will eventually lead them to answer the question, so give them a few minutes to generate some ideas for theorists / theories relevant to the question.

If you’re providing some initial stimulus Evidence, place the relevant Sticky Notes somewhere on the body outline.

4. For each of the “suspects” (i.e. theorists and / or theories) identified, students need to explain how they’d “killed the question”. In other words, they need to write on a Sticky Note how the information they’ve identified could be used to answer the question.

Once this has been done the students should place their Sticky Notes on the body outline. Although it’s probable two or more groups will come-up with the same theorist they’re unlikely to explain their relevance in exactly the same way so this will all add to the information pile. If two or more groups do come-up with exactly the same information simply remove the duplicate Sticky Notes from the outline.

5. Give the students a few minutes to read and digest the Evidence placed around the outline and then ask them to suggest ways it would be possible to criticise each piece of evidence. This can be as wide-ranging as you like, from alternative theorists / theories to methodological criticisms. Once these have been brainstormed ask each group to summarise the criticisms for each of the original evidence points on a (different coloured) Stick Note and place it on the body outline close to the original evidence.

6. Repeat this step but instead of asking for criticisms get your students to think about the conclusion(s) they could draw about the question by comparing their original evidence to the criticisms.

7. Once all the original evidence has been covered divide the lass into two groups:

PowerPoint Walkthrough

Group 1 is tasked with writing an overall Introduction to the question.

Group 2 is tasked with writing an overall Conclusion to the question.

Once each group has decided on the content of their Introduction / Conclusion get them to write these on Stick Notes and add them to the body outline.

8. The final step is for all the students to record everything that has been placed on and around the body outline. They might want to take notes, photograph the crime scene or whatever.

The final part of the process is to get your students to write the essay, either as a timed exam-style exercise in the classroom or as part of their normal homework.

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