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Is competition good for children?

Korean child in a karate poseAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, authors of A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool, to give us their thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko says, “If you want a friend, get a dog”. No one is your friend when it comes to money; coming out on top financially is everything. This takes competition to new heights.

Is that what we want for our children? Or do we want our children to learn both competition and cooperation and when to use them?

As authors of various books on child development, Kathy and I firmly believe that both cooperation and competition are needed for success in a 21st century global economy.

Cooperation is needed because in our new, e-connected world, children need to learn how to communicate and collaborate. Playing together and group projects at home and in school can help. This is because children learn to take the perspective of the other and to honor others’ contributions.

Competition will be needed too, as this is the way of the world. Children have to learn that if they invented the better mousetrap, they will need to compete for their market share.

Competitive team sports can help children get over the disappointment of losing and encourage the creation of strategies to win another day.

We believe that both competition and cooperation are a part of life and both can be gently introduced to children.

Find out how you can use questions like “Is competition good for children?” in class.


Roberta Golinkoff holds the H. Rodney Sharp chair in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware, USA. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek is Stanley and Deborah Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA. Both have written many books on child development including A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool: Presenting the Evidence (OUP).

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Where do new ideas come from?

Where do new ideas come fromAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Andrew Robinson, author of Sudden Genius? The Gradual Path to Sudden Breakthroughs, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

As an author and biographer, academic, journalist, and magazine literary editor, my personal contact with artistic and scientific ‘geniuses’ has made me curious about creative breakthroughs.

A highly admired scientist, Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel prizes, for chemistry and for peace, was once asked by a student: “Dr Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas?”

Pauling thought for a moment and replied: “Well, I have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones.”

But where do ideas come from? Why do some people have many more of them than others? How do you distinguish the good ideas from the bad?

Most intriguing of all, perhaps, why do the best ideas often strike the mind with suddenness, apparently in a flash?

There are no simple answers, only clues. Some of the world’s great creative breakthroughs are said to have begun with a ‘eureka experience’ of sudden insight, as with Newton’s discovery of gravity whilst watching an apple fall.

And yet research shows that before each breakthrough the discoverer has been immersed in the problem — usually for ten years or more.

Alexander Fleming worked in the bacteriology department of a London hospital for about two decades before he stumbled upon the first antibiotic drug penicillin.

His discovery was a classic example of Louis Pasteur’s famous dictum: “Where observation is concerned, chance favours only the prepared mind.”

Find out how you can use questions like “Where do new ideas come from?” in class.


Andrew Robinson is a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK. As an author and journalist he has written extensively on the subject of genius. His latest book Sudden Genius? The Gradual Path to Sudden Breakthroughs (OUP) is available in September 2010.

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What makes a good question?

Recently, our series of blog posts on teaching English for Academic Purposes has focused on the concept of a question-centered approach.

That is, an approach that uses thought-provoking questions as a framework for teaching critical thinking skills—as well as teaching language and skills strategies.

So far, Jennifer Bixby has deconstructed what a good thought-provoking question should do, and Joe McVeigh has offered some tips for integrating questions into classroom activities.

So, what kind of questions lead to critical thinking?

To demonstrate, we decided to test out 12 different questions by posing them to some of the world’s most esteemed scientists, anthropologists, geologists, mathematicians, psychologists, and philosophers.

We kick off by asking “Where do new ideas come from?”, a question that genius expert Andrew Robinson attempts to answer.

Then, every day for the next 10 days, we’ll ask a panel of academics a different question, each one taken from Q Skills for Success, the new course series from OUP.

Questions published so far are:

The aim of this exercise?

Well, it’s just a bit of fun, really. But we figured, the more interesting the question, the more interesting the dialog that is borne of it. And that’s true no matter whether you’re asking an Oxford professor or an English language learner at pre-intermediate level.

Remember, if any of these questions capture your imagination, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments. Or, why not assign it as a homework challenge for your students?

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