100 Questions

By Ben zhao, September 25, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

5 ninety minute class periods


  Dr. Paul Polak has said about design that if you haven’t had conversations with at least twenty-five people who you are trying to serve, don’t bother. In this lesson, students will practice problem solving skills through asking questions and going through a design challenge. Students will:
  • build the mental habits of an inquirer
  • learn to be reflective
  • understand the role of empathy in design
  • use research skills to understand another culture
  • use problem solving skills to design a solution for an emerging country

National Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing: 

Text Types and Purposes: 


Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Range of Writing: 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:


Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.


Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.




Students will:
  • develop better habits that encourage curiosity, asking questions, and seeking answers
  • learn to be more reflective of their own thoughts and emotions
  • learn the importance of empathy as the most important criteria in the design profession and for anyone in a position of power
  • practice problem solving skills


  • National Geographic magazines
  • Design for the Other 90% website:  http://other90.cooperhewitt.org/
  • Access to library or internet for research
  • Out of Poverty by Dr. Paul Polak website:  http://paulpolak.com/design/


  • sketchbooks
  • pencils
  • model/presentation materials (determined by each project)


  • self analysis: a penetrating examination of your own thoughts, beliefs, and motives
  • reflective: the state of being deeply or seriously thoughtful
  • inquirers: people who are curious, who ask questions
  • thinkers: people who ponder the state of things; people who are curious
  • caring: a feeling of concern or interest
  • balanced: a state of equilibrium; symmetry; equality of distribution
  • empathy: understanding another person’s feelings


1. Have your students work in pairs.  Try pairing a boy with a girl or a freshman with an upperclassman (the goal is for each student to gain a perspective of someone who they think they understand, but actually do not).   Ask each student to take a turn being the “client” and the “designer.”  Each “designer” will ask the “client” fifty questions as if they were designing a solution for something that may be difficult in that person’s life.  Ask them to record these questions in their sketchbooks.  End the class period by leading a discussion on what each student learned from this exercise.  Were they surprised by their partner’s answers?  Did they find that one question would lead to another question? 2.  During the next class meeting, ask your students to apply the empathy they gained from the previous exercise to a new design challenge.  In small groups, have students choose one emerging country to research.  As they collect information about this country, ask them to identify a challenge that the country may face.  As they begin to identify this challenge, they should narrow their research.  Remind them to take in to account the country’s culture and customs.  After each group has compiled research relevant to their challenge, ask them to generate a list of 50 – 100 questions that they would like to ask their client if possible.  Again, end the class by discussing how the previous day’s exercise influenced the questions they chose to ask today. 3.  During the third class meeting, have the students return to their groups.  Give them 15 minutes to brainstorm possible solutions to their identified problem.  They must then choose two to three of their best ideas that they would like to pursue.  Give your students another 30 minutes to develop these ideas.  They may sketch, model, do additional research, etc. during this time.  At the end of the class meeting, allow time for each group to briefly present their identified challenge and their possible solutions.  Remind them to articulate how each design addresses the challenge.  Encourage the class to give constructive feedback to each group on how to improve each of their designs how to pick one design to continue to work on. 4.  On the fourth day, student groups should use the entire class period to create any final prototypes or presentation materials.  Groups should discuss how they will present their ideas to the class.  If any of the design solutions does not lend itself to a visual object or rendering, encourage them to think about alternate ways to convey their solutions (through writing, oral presentation, digital media, graphs, charts, etc.). 5.  The final class meeting should be used for student presentation and critique.  Allow each group 15 minutes to present their project.  Remind them to answer the following questions:  What challenge did you identify?  Who is your client?  How does your solution address the challenge and client’s specific needs?  Encourage the class to ask questions and give each group constructive feedback.  At the end of the period lead a discussion with the entire class.  Ask the following questions: How did you arrive at your final solution?  What would you do next if you had more time to work on it?  How was it working in teams?  What role did empathy play in the design process?


Evaluate students based on their class participation.  Final assessment should also reflect the student’s development and involvement in the design process as a whole, not the final product.    
  1. I think I could adapt this questioning technique to a unit that helps students write original social awareness sketches for counselling projects. We do plays that address topics like teen pregnancy and cyber-bullying; what would be even better is if the students create these sketches as original work and then present them to other students with talk back sessions.
    Cheryl Hanson,San Antonio

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