According to my wise 11 year old students, there are no good questions.
When I asked, some of them pointed out the difference between ‘skinny’ and ‘fat’ questions, others said the best questions are those that lead to other questions. But the majority informed me that whether a question is ‘good’ or not simply depends on your perspective! I was informed that ‘Whatever you want to ask is a good question to you, it doesn’t matter what others think’ and ‘Your perspective on what makes a good question might depend on your intelligence or your interests’.
I asked them to think about what conditions encourage them to ask questions. They said that you need to be interested in something to want to ask questions about it. Some said you need to see something that makes you curious. Several said that the more you know about something, the more questions you have about it. Others said the less you know, the more there is to wonder about!
10 ways to encourage good questions… if there are such things…
1. Ask good questions.
Model good questioning. Ask open ended questions with multiple answers. Be open to all responses. Encourage more questions, rather than just waiting for answers which close off the conversation.
2. Ignite curiosity.
Provide powerful stimuli. Use picture books, photographs, artifacts and works of art. Show video clips that touch the heart while conveying information. Read a provocative text. Play a simulation game. Challenge conventional thinking.
3. Use thinking routines.
Explore the Project Zero Visible Thinking website. Many routines provide a scaffold for good questions. eg Connect, extend,challenge helps students start by connecting to what they know, then consider how their thinking has been extended and only then ask questions about what they find challenging. (More routines here.)
4. Unpack questions.
Grow questions from other questions. Help students see where they might lead. Find the questions within the questions. If you can’t, it’s a ‘skinny’ question… (teach the difference between a ‘skinny’ question with limited answers and a broad open-ended one).
5. Focus on questions not answers.
Show that you value questioning for its own sake. You don’t always have to know the answer. Unanswerable questions are valuable too. Collect questions. Play with questions. Display questions. Record, revisit and rethink questions.
6. Create a question brainstorm.
Use bubbl.us or any mind-mapping tool to brainstorm questions about a topic, concept or idea. Questions grow from other questions. Create a web of questions. Build questions based on other questions. Don’t look for answers (yet). See where it takes you.
7. Allow plenty of thinking time.
Get used to the silence. Give students time to formulate their thinking. Don’t call on the first kids to have their hands up. Sometimes, get every student to write their questions down before you call on anyone. Give time to discuss their thoughts with a partner or group before sharing with the class.
8. Create a culture of inquiry.
Encourage exploration, wondering and questioning. Set meaningful, real-life problems. Encourage students to take and defend a position, make predictions, articulate and test theories, make connections with prior knowledge.
9. Focus on concepts.
Questions about facts tends to be closed. Facts are locked in time, place or situation, while concepts are transferable. Explore the big ideas behind the topics.
10. Talk less, step back
Don’t talk at your students. Have a strong provocation, stimulus or hook to get them thinking, wondering, questioning. Then step back. Have students challenge, question and respond to each other, not through the teacher.
Note: This post includes input from my colleagues: Jocelyn, Rubi, Layla, Hailey and Monica. They respond to my questions, sometimes with further questions, and push my thinking!
10 ways series: