“Keep This A Secret…” – Tip #132

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What happens when you tell someone to keep a secret?

“Okay I’ll tell you something, but keep it a secret.”

They will likely tell someone else who will tell other people as well.

This is because our minds want to fill in certain a gaps.

In lesson development, we want to pique learners’ curiosity. Why?

Curiosity is an inherent “passion for learning,” as the brilliant Roman lawyer Cicero once said. When this passion for learning is roused, brain activities take place that prepare us to learn. Activities in the hippocampus, which is involved in memories, also increase. These were findings of researchers at the University of California.

So, how can we excite this innate capacity to wonder? Think of the artichoke analogy. We need to peel off the layers of the artichoke to get to the heart.

How To Do This

Ask reflection questions

Reflection questions provoke learners to examine their experiences and values. Allow learners to fill in the gap from their own memories. Asking reflection questions is getting to the heart.

After the controversial 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, some discussion questions were raised. Three of these questions were:

If you were a guard, what type of guard would you have become? How sure are you?
What prevented “good guards” from objecting or countermanding the orders from tough or bad guards?
If you were a prisoner, would you have been able to endure the experience? What would you have done differently than those subjects did? If you were imprisoned in a “real” prison for five years or more, could you take it?

When asked these questions, learners begin to wonder, reflect, and look deeper into their hearts. When they do, they ask more questions and learn more.

Differentiate expectations from reality

Every day we perceive patterns around us. Based on these perceptions, we make assumptions and expectations. Our brains automatically translates our perceptions into a model of reality. When we observe similar patterns, we tend to connect dots and expect to reach the same results. If something breaks that pattern, we become curious.

A lab technician has successfully done hundreds of similar tests using the same method and gets the same results. He does a similar test, expects the same result but turns out to be different. He begins to wonder and mentally replays over and over again the sequence of events.

Definitive answer vs. preview

Giving definitive answers is pushing learners to a dead end. Inquiry comes a standstill. Show learners a preview instead. It stimulates the person’s mind to anticipate.

“I wonder what would happen in the end?”

This is why movie trailers work.

When using a story ending, the character (Peter) can say “I realize my error and I learned that….”

Then you can write a preview: “In the next lesson, see how Peter made the mistake which almost cost his life….” Works just like teasers of soap operas or your favorite TV show.


We are innately curious. Consistently, we ask probing questions, validate our impressions and avoid definitive answers to  nourish our sense of wonder.


Daisy Yuhas. Curiosity prepares the brain for learning. Scientific American. October 2, 2014
Philip Zimbardo.
Discussions questions. Stanford Prison Experiment Hook elearners by shattering their expectation
Paul King. Is perception reality?. Quora. July 27. 2015 Shraddha Chakradhar. The case for curiosity. Harvard Medical School. August 10, 2012
Think Artichoke eLearning, Understand Learner’s Instincts
Tip #42 – Provoking Learners with Story Questions
Tip #43 – How to Use Questions to Immerse Learners in Your Lesson
Tip #57 – Episodic Learning-Learning Like Watching Your Favorite Soap Opera!
Tip #94 – How to Design Unobtrusive Test Questions
Tip #100 – Spur Learning Through ‘Curiosity Conversations’

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”