Why are all these people (even kids) lying across the railroad tracks?
railroadtracksA death wish? No. You’d observe the presence of the kids and the number of people, then you’d rule that out.

It’s warm? Nope.

They are trying to hear when the train will be coming?

Better guess, but no.

Click here to find out why.

I’ve used this exercise to teach my students about the role of observation in literature and art. But creating mystery (or generating inquiry) can be an effective approach to your online communications.

We touched on this in Online Teaching Tip #10 about drafting effective subject lines. We can either give our students rationale–Why You Should Read This–or we need to generate interest through mystery. Here are a couple steps that may help you get started:


Before sending out that weekly email, ask yourself, “What’s the one thing I want them to understand this week?” The answer to that question is your starting point. Then ask,”How can I create a sense of inquiry, mystery, or exploration around this concept?” That will lead you in the right direction.


Ask your students for a clear response. Should they click, reply, observe, post, research, be the first to…, watch, find, record–you get the point. Questions and mystery are great, but your students need some call to action to get them to pursue the learning concepts you’ve set before them.

An entire field of educational theory has been devoted to this basic concept. To find out more, check out New York Public Media’s site devoted to Inquiry Based Learning.