Lateral Thinking Problem Empowerment Activity image of notebook, pen and printed answers

Lateral Thinking Problems

Lateral Thinking Problems

Topic: Strategic Thinking and Problem Solving

Empowerment Video: Strategic Thinking

Basic Supplies:

  • Blank paper
  • Writing utensil such as a pencil or pen
  • One copy of the lateral thinking problems per student or another method to display them such as an overhead or whiteboard

Video Discussion:

Say, “Think of a recent problem that you solved. This could be a personal problem, a problem at school, or a problem at home.”

Ask, “How did you solve it?”

Give students a moment to think, then ask for any volunteers that are willing to share their problem and the solution.

Guide students to understand that there are many ways to approach and solve problems.

After watching the video “Strategic Thinking”, ask your students the following questions:

  • What are some ways that you could try to solve a problem?
  • Is there a “best” way to problem solve? Why or why not?
  • Do you think one type of problem solving will work for all types of problems? Explain your thinking.
  • Why do you think it’s important to be able to think strategically?

Activity Instructions:

Lateral thinking is one way to solve problems. Like all problem-solving strategies, the more you practice, the easier it will become. This type of problem solving can help you learn to “think outside the box” and ultimately become a stronger strategic thinker.

  1. Working alone or with a partner, work to solve each of the lateral thinking problems one at a time.
  2. Be prepared to share your answers and your thinking with the class!

Lateral Thinking Problems:

  1. You are standing next to three light switches. All three switches are now in the off position. You know these switches belong to three lights in another room, but you can’t see into the other room.
    You can do whatever you want with the switches, but when you are finished you must go into the other room and say which switch belongs to which bulb. You cannot enter the room more than once. What will you do to determine which bulb belongs to which switch?
  2. How can you divide a cake into eight pieces using just three cuts?
  3. A farmer is travelling with a fox, a goose, and a bag of beans. During his journey, he comes across a river. There is a boat tied to the shore that he can use to cross the river. The farmer can only fit one thing in the boat with him at a time. If left alone together, the fox will eat the goose, or the goose will eat the beans. How does the farmer get everything across the river safely?
  4. Your sock drawer only contains 18 white socks and 18 blue socks. How many times do you need to reach inside the drawer and take out a sock to guarantee a matching pair?

(Scroll down to see answers)

Spacing: large
Spacing: large

Lateral Thinking Answers:

  1. Answer: Turn on the first switch and wait for at least five minutes. Turn off the first switch and then turn on the second switch, leaving it on. Once you get into the other room, you’ll find the bulb for the second switch still shining, the bulb for the first switch will be hot, and the bulb for the third switch will be neither hot nor on.
  2. Answer: Cut the cake into four pieces using two cuts. Then move the four pieces so they align and cut the cake horizontally in half with your third cut, making eight pieces.
  3. Answer: The farmer brings the goose across the river first. Then, the farmer brings either the fox or the beans across. The farmer must bring the goose back to the original side of the river. The farmer brings the other item back (either the fox or the beans). The fox and the beans are now on the other side of the river. The farmer returns and brings the goose across the river again.
  4. Answer: Three times. On the third time, you’ll get either a white or a blue sock to match with one of the other two you’ve already grabbed.
Spacing: medium

*Lateral Thinking Puzzles Sourced from: