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Monday, December 18, 2017

Teaching Students to Ask Good Questions

Asking good questions is hard for students.

I discovered this for myself when I went into an eleventh-grade classroom to help students working on National History Day research papers formulate research questions. Because I'd always rather "borrow" than reinvent the wheel,  I took inspiration from John Schmidt and Jeff Treppa (authors of The Research Paper: Developing Historical Questions), and I brought in handouts they created: Guidelines for Forming Historical Questions and Practice: Developing a Historical Question. And the kids *really* struggled.

I've written before about K-12 appropriate techniques to work this skill including Question Cubes and the Question Formulation Technique. I recently came across another one, one of the many interesting "Visible Thinking Routines" featured on Project Zero's website. It's called Question StartsA Routine for Creating Thought-provoking Questions. Like most good routines, it is deceptively simple. Visit the Project Zero website to get all the details, but in brief, here's how it works: 

1. Brainstorm a list of at least 12 questions about the topic, concept or object. Use these question-starts to help you think of interesting questions:
  • Why…? How would it be different if…?
  • What are the reasons...? Suppose that…?
  • What if…? What if we knew…?
  • What is the purpose of…? What would change if…?
2. Review the brainstormed list and star the questions that seem most
interesting. Then, select one or more of the starred questions to discuss
for a few moments.

3. Reflect: What new ideas do you have about the topic, concept or object
that you didn’t have before?

Do you actively teach asking good questions in your classroom? Why and how? Or why not? I'd love to hear from you.

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