Inquiries from the obverse side | A questioning activity


Last night, the Indian Prime minister in a televised address to the nation, demonetised our highest denomination currency notes: ₹500 and  ₹1000, in a bid to curb corruption, terrorism, and money laundering. It was really quite shocking and unanticipated, particularly because it was effective midnight and would affect ₹14,000,000,000,0000 (US$21,038,416,000,00) worth of cash in circulation.

So it seems an appropriate time to revisit an old activity for practising question forms using currency notes. I’m not sure who originally came up with this activity – it’s been around for a while as an ELT game as well as a soft skills activity. Here’s my version.


  • Form Wh or open-ended questions accurately
  • Probe more deeply to uncover information
  • Reflect on how routine might spawn mindlessness.


  • Each pair will need one currency note of any denomination between them which they’ll hopefully supply themselves. I like to get them to pull out a ₹10 note because it’s got really interesting design features on the reverse side such as some animals and the words ‘ten rupees’ in 15 of India’s 21 official languages. (BTW, did you know that the front of a note is called the obverse side?) 

ten rupees.jpg


  • Make two columns on the board and label them “Descriptive questions” and “Evaluative questions”.
  • Elicit question stems from students such as “How many … “, “What do you see …”, “Where exactly …” under descriptive; and “What do you think of… “, How do you find …”, “What’s your opinion on …” under evaluative.
  • Divide students into pairs.
  • Ask each pair to pull out a single note from their wallets and hold it between them. Students take turns to ask each other descriptive questions about what they see on their side such “How many animals are there?” “Which ones?” “Which way is the rhino facing?” etc.
  • Quickly get feedback on how familiar they were with the currency note. You’ll generally find people are quite ignorant about what’s on these notes despite handling them day in and day out.
  • Now ask pairs to flip the note over so each student is now looking at the side that they were questioned about previously. Have pairs ask each other evaluative questions such as “Which of the three animals do you like best? Why?”

Debrief & feedback 

  • Based on your rationale for using this activity, you might want to ask questions to elicit how we see things without really noticing them and how this observational blind spot might affect our work and relationships i.e., how routine might spawn mindlessness
  • You could focus on the students’ ability to probe and ask questions going from general to more specific, building on previous questions & responses.
  • Alternatively, you could simply highlight language issues with question formation or explore the ability to ask questions in a less interrogative, more conversational way.

I’m curious about which currency note or bill you’d choose to use if you were to conduct this activity with your students.


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