10 ways to encourage good questions…

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:

10 ways to get students to own their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

10 ways to create a culture of thinking

10 ways to grow as an educator

10 ways my thinking has changed

10 ways to think about your learning space

10 ways to help students develop a PLN

10 ways to attract readers to your blog

10 things teachers should unlearn

10 ways to get your students’ respect

10 ways to assess learning without tests


15 thoughts on “10 ways to encourage good questions…

  1. Once again, Edna, you are right on target! Thank you for a wonderful post that has me thinking about how I will “get out of the way”after posing questions. I really want my students to be the “question generators” and do more of the talking!


  2. Edna –

    It took me a few years to realize that questioning is a skill. Students don’t come to me with the ability to ask “fat” questions (or any questions). They often don’t see the point at first, because their questions have rarely (or never) been valued in their classes before.

    I should take a picture of our current class “Wonder Wall” of all the questions kids have asked about our project. The driving question “How do we reconcile science and personal belief?” has generated fascinating questions!


  3. I love the focus on questions not answers. You are so right about thinking time. Teachers are terrible at slince because it scares them I think & they rush to fill it!. Really interesting post – thank you!


  4. bravo…
    i love your 10 ways series… can’t wait to look through all of them.

    this is huge Edna:
    According to my wise 11 year old students,…
    When I asked…
    But the majority informed me …
    I asked them to think about …
    They said…

    you model this culture where students know you value their insight.
    they appear to be your experts in this post.

    i love the premise of the book – inquiry as stance.. where – like your students so brilliantly state… it’s not about good questions, but about conversation where a stance of inquiry is the norm, embraced even.


  5. Loved this post!!!! Specially the first paragraph.. 🙂 gotta love the kids’ questions and answers … 🙂

    Also like the 10 ways series… priceless resources! Thanks for sharing!


  6. I believe that the art of asking good questions comes from years of insight and practice. A teacher has to be a deep thinker themselves in order to ask questions that arouse the metacognitive abilities of their students. As a fairly new teacher I have found that using questions on the various levels of Blooms Taxonomy have helped to deepen not only my understanding, but my students as well. In the course that I am currently taking in Grad school we have learned that giving students ample time to think about what is being asked and reflecting on their answers greatly increases their metacognitive skills and the depth of their answers. Too often teachers feel rushed through their lessons and are not able to take the time to provide their students the practice that they will need to develop the art of deep thought.


  7. Amazing! I have worked with fourth and fifth graders on questioning and discussion groups for several years. Seeing your “10 Ways” so simply stated makes the task seem less daunting. Questioning has always been a very difficult skill to teach. Children seem to want to ask questions there is a single answer to. It takes time for them to realize that the best questions don’t always have one answer! As teacher we tend to want to fill silence but that takes away from our children. Allowing them to facilitate their own discussion groups using questioning strategies brings them closer to becoming independent learners.


  8. I loved this post about getting the students to ask good questions. I especially enjoyed the tip to “unpack questions” by modeling to the students that questions can come from questions. In a study skills course I teach, we are working on the difference between skinny and fat questions, which we refer to as level one, two and three questions. The level three questions require critical thinking and discussion, and most importantly, there is no correct answer. Students these days are so used to finding the one “correct” answer to mark on a standardized test. It is fun and challenging to get my students to think outside the box and realize that their questions and thoughts are valuable. I will continue modeling open-ended questions as well. I would love to hear about any interesting discussion starter ideas you have.


  9. Your students are so insightful, honestly it gives me hope that our future won’t be full of adults who believe that every question has one correct answer. Keep doing what you are doing, your questioning is leading to some very thoughtful kids!


  10. I commend you. This “way of thinking” about thinking creates a culture for maximizing every single learning experience in the classroom. As a result of our current system, thinking is not encouraged. When is the last time you heard someone say, “Put on your thinking caps?” A classroom with authentic, meaningful instruction provides the perfect environment for questions to flourish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s