Provocations in the PYP

Seisen News

Provocations in the PYP
Serrin Smyth

Provocations generally take place at the beginning of a unit of inquiry. Although sometimes there may be opportunities or needs to provoke students thinking throughout the unit of inquiry also. 

So what is a provocation? 

A provocation is a well considered and carefully crafted activity to ignite students interest. The role of the provocation is to create excitement and engagement for the unit of inquiry the students and teachers are about to embark on. Additionally, a really powerful provocation will bring to the surface students current understandings, knowledge and possible misconceptions about the concepts about to be explored within the unit of inquiry. 

Some questions teachers use to plan provocations include: 

  • Is the provocation likely to leave a lasting impression?
  • Might the provocation invite debate?
  • Might the provocation reveal prior knowledge?
  • Is the provocation likely to uncover misconceptions?
  • Can the provocation be revisited throughout the unit?
  • Might the provocation lead learners into a zone of confusion and discomfort?
  • Does the provocation relate to real life/their world?
  • Does the provocation emote feelings? 

Additionally, two key questions that teachers use to plan for how the provocation may be used as a pre-assessment tool include:

How are we assessing students’ prior knowledge, conceptual understandings and skills?

How are we using data and evidence of prior learning to inform planning? 

What are some examples of provocations?


Central Idea: Our health can be influenced by the choices we make. 

“We had a provocation to get things rolling. The children were asked their opinion on a sample lunch which consisted of potato chips, chocolate cake and a bottle of soda. We had some great reactions which showed us that the students have a general idea of what is healthy and unhealthy. We then looked at another sample lunch which consisted of rice with vegetables, fish, broccoli, natural yoghurt, a tangerine and water. The children agreed that this was a much better lunch!

We had another provocation today with pictures of food from the different food groups. The children were asked how they would sort these pictures. Some children thought they could have two groups, one with healthy food and the other with unhealthy food. Some other suggestions involved sorting the food according to colour or favourite food. The fruit and vegetable group was the easiest to sort, grains and protein were more challenging. We will continue to work on the food groups next week.

We also read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. We had a good discussion about why the caterpillar had a stomach ache! Today we read two books: I like Pasta and I Like Ice Cream.”

-Ms Josephine: Daffodil Class

Grade 3: 

Central Idea: Balance in our lives can promote health and well-being. 

Students engaged with an EdPuzzle activity where they were given certain statements about well-being and they had to decide with a partner whether the statement was true or false. They had to explain their thinking behind their decision after conversing with their partner. 

Some of the statements students had to decide were true or false included: 

  • People who show gratitude are healthier
  • Exercise improves our mood
  • Everyone needs exactly 8 hours sleep a night
  • Using technology after 8pm disrupts your sleep

Here is an example of some of the students thinking for the statement, “People who meditate are healthier than people who don’t.” Teachers analyzed the answers to understand how to plan for further learning engagements based on the current knowledge of the students. 


“Positive people live longer than negative people.” Students thinking: 

Grade 4: 

Central idea: People use symbolism in art to express complex and meaningful themes.

Ms Speirs, our art teacher, had collated a range of artworks that displayed various themes. Students were asked to group them into categories of themes they thought worked together and then were asked to explain their thinking. 

Grade 5: 

Central Idea: Our identity and thinking can be influenced and expressed through the media.

We posted a call out through different social media platforms, asking volunteers to take a selfie and then record a 1 minute video clip discussing their identity, such as geographic origins, ethnicity, cultural background, interests/hobbies, passions, religion/spirituality and languages. 

These selfies and videos were used to challenge the students assumptions about different people based on what they see when viewing a selfie. Students then reflected on this experience considering their impressions when viewing the selfie versus their impressions when viewing the video of the actual person - how these differed and why perhaps they differed.

Where to next? 

Teachers reflect on students’ prior knowledge, conceptual understandings and skills that have emerged throughout the provocation & self assessment and use this information to further plan for the units of inquiry. 

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