"To Tell the Truth": An Engaging Alternative to the Reading Quiz

January 11, 2018

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

The format of the game show, To Tell the Truth, can be utilized as a fun and engaging alternative to the traditional reading quiz, which is often given to assess whether students have read and understood a handout or passage in a textbook.

For those unfamiliar with this game show, To Tell the Truth, made its first appearance on television in the mid-1950s.  Various iterations of this show have appeared on the small screen—off and on—ever since.  The show’s basic premise is that a celebrity panel is to determine, which one (central character) of three contestants (or challengers) is telling the truth.  At the beginning of the show, the host would briefly introduce the occupation or notable accomplishment (often unique or unusual) of a named individual (e.g., Jim Smith).  Next, the three contests would be revealed, and they would each individually claim to be the central character by stating, “I am Jim Smith.”  From that point forward, the challengers were simply referred to as “Number One,” “Number Two,” and “Number Three.”

Next, the guest panelists would ask probing questions with each inquiry answered by all three challengers.  The purpose of these questions was to aid the panelists in discerning the real “Jim Smith” from the two impostors.  After several questions had been asked and answered, the panelists would have to decide, which challenger was the real Jim Smith.  Each panelist would then hold-up a card with the number one, two, or three; thereby indicating who they thought to be the actual central character. 

The climax of the game show occurred when the host would say, “Will the real Jim Smith, please stand up?” soon followed by the actual Jim Smith standing up.

The To Tell the Truth format can be used in lieu of a reading quiz!

The next time you give students a reading assignment on an important person in your content area (e.g., Nelson Mandela, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth, Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just a few), here’s one way to use this game show format:

  1. Assign students a reading assignment due the following day.

  2. Draft a series of questions students should be able to answer after completing the reading.

  3. Use these questions to prepare a script (i.e., numbered questions the students will ask followed by the answer each challenger will provide in response) for your three challengers (see the example of Galileo Galilei at this link: https://www.ringoftruth.org/social-studies-links/world-history). Remember: the central character's responses must be truthful, but can be occasionally vague; while the impostor answers can often be truthful, but some answers must contain enough error(s), so students who have read the assignment can determine the “real” historical character.

  4. Select three students to be the challengers and provide them with a copy of the script. The remainder of the students will serve as panelists.

  5. At the beginning of class the following day, randomly distribute a numbered question to each student as they walk into the classroom (except for the three challengers). As students enter, they should also see three student desks located at the front of the classroom with a sign in front of each desk labeled: “Number One, Number Two, and Number Three.”

  6. As host, briefly introduce the central (historical) character followed by each challenger’s claim to be that person. The challengers then take their seats.

  7. Next, the host should remind the class that after a period of questioning each student will have to decide who is the “real” historical character.

  8. Each student then asks their question in numbered sequence followed by each challenger’s scripted response.

  9. Following the period of questions and answers, the host asks the student panelists to write their name on a sheet of paper along with the number he or she believes is the “real” historical character (optional: for a grade), which are then collected. You might also have students indicate which challenger they voted for by a show of hands.

  10. Then, the host says, “Will the real _________ __________, please stand up?” followed shortly thereafter by the real historical character standing up.

  11. Optional: Students who served as challengers and those who have correctly identified the “real” historical character receive full credit (e.g., “A” or “100%”) for this reading quiz alternative. For students who misidentified the “real” historical character, they could be required to complete a follow-up set of questions from the “show,” which could be easily extracted from the "script" word document and reformatted into a reading guide/worksheet (see the example of Galileo Galilei at this link: reading guide questions).

If you decide to use this reading quiz alternative, please “tell the truth,” and let the author know how this activity worked for you and your students at theringoftruth@outlook.com.

Paul BinfordComment