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Men With Hats: A logic puzzle/riddle for teaching ESL.

 

 

 

 

Men With Hats: Using Riddles to

Teach the Language of Logic

 

 

Materials:

 

Men With Hats Riddle - Mixed Up

Men With Hats Riddle Story

Teaching your students to speak logically is a great gift that you can impart to them. It is an especially important, yet difficult thing to do in a foreign language. It is a skill well worth going over and can be achieved at the middle school level and above. And there is a great resource of materials for teaching this in the form of riddles and logic puzzles, many of which can be found by a simple internet search. The 'Men with Hats' riddle is an old one that I found on the internet and turned into a language lesson. It is extremely motivating and there is a great sense of satisfaction at discovering the answer to the riddle. All of this helps disguise that the students are actually learning an important part of language: the language of rational argument. This is the language of 'if', 'so', 'because', 'therefore' and 'but'.

The lesson is fairly simple: divide your students into groups and give a copy of the mixed up riddle to them. Ask them to sort the riddle out. The riddle has been rewritten by me so that there are some obvious clues as to the order. Make sure the students only use English. You may have to explain what certain phrases mean.

One clue is voice. If the students have problems sorting the riddle out go over who is saying each line. Is it the narrator or the king? It is easy enough to tell who says what. This should help them divide the statements into two sections, a narrator section followed by a king section.

A second clue is the use of articles. We use 'a' to introduce a word, and 'the' when we refer to a word that has already been introduced. Therefore, the statement 'Finally, he told them that if they answer a riddle, they could go free.' has to go before the statement 'Here is the riddle:' because the latter statement has 'the' and the former statement has 'a'.

After the students have ordered the riddle, give them the story sheet. Go over the story. And then ask them to solve the riddle in groups. After they have solved the riddle, they should write it up. They will need to use a few logical expressions to write up their answer. You can help them by going around and checking their answers. Finally, the classes will present their answers. Here was a sample answer (correct) that one student came up with:

 

 

Tim knew the answer because Sam didn't say anything after one minute. If Tim and Mike's hat were both the same color, then Sam would know what color his hat was. But Sam didn't know. So Tim knew that Mike's hat was a different color than his. Since Mike's hat was black, Tim knew his hat was white.

 

 If you would like more riddles, check out Yoda Schmidt's article on teaching riddles to ESL students.