Five Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning - ASCD
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January 1, 2017

Five Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning

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Instructional Strategies

Teachers have always recognized classroom questioning as a critical instructional practice. Developing student questioning skills, however, is just as important. All students need to be able to generate purposeful questions, understand that curiosity leads to action, ponder metacognitively, and improve their problem-solving abilities. A significant instructional shift takes place when a classroom culture is transformed from one where the teacher poses the majority of questions to one where a community of curious wonderers offer up their own.

Finding the time for students to practice questioning can be a challenge, but these short activities will get you started.

1. Pass-Arounds. Put together a collection of unique objects: interesting tools, old hardware, items from nature, photographs, etc. Have students pass an object around as they pose questions about it aloud. Explain that the goal is not identifying the object, but developing questions that will uncover more information about it. For example: How is this thing usually used? Why is it shaped like this? What action does it perform? Why would people want it? Jot down the students' comments, so you can discuss, evaluate, and validate their questions. Finally, ask students to identify which ones could be most helpful in learning about the object. Have them justify and defend their choices. Then, try to answer those questions.

2. Q-Stems Exercise. Create a set of sentence-stem cards (include question starters like: How …? Why …? Are there …? Do you wonder …? Is it possible if …? How could it …? What's another way of thinking about …?). Ask your students to generate as many questions as possible about a topic or concept they are studying using just one sentence stem (they can try it during a questioning minilesson, guided reading or math time, or one-on-one conferences). When they have exhausted all possibilities, they can move on to another question stem.

3. Ps & Qs (Partners and Questions). Divide the class into pairs and distribute one different object (photograph, map, artifact, science materials, art image, or other lesson-specific item) to each group. Encourage partners to take turns asking and answering questions about the object. The goal is to develop fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration in question creation. Circulate around the room and ask partners to explain which question revealed the most information, and why. Finally, have two groups of partners compare their questions and answers. The groups can then report out to the class.

4. Whose Eyes? Project an image (or distribute a copy) of a historic photograph, contemporary illustration, or current event (look for thought-provoking images with lots of people and detail) and provide time for students to contemplate it. Then, instead of focusing on the most prominent person in the scene, have students create questions that people in the background might ask. For example, I use a historic photo from Ellis Island. Although a "main character" is clearly at the center of the photo (a police officer or doctor), I ask my students to look at the scene through the eyes of a little girl at the end of the line. My students might ask, Why is it so crowded? or Why is it taking so long? or Where did my father go? Students can role-play the scenes, pose their questions, and provide a rationale for their perspective.

5. Question-A-Go-Go into a Question Rainbow. Hang up an interesting photograph, blueprint, patent, artwork, or quote. Then, over the course of a week, ask students to write a question they have about the picture on a sticky note and attach it to the image. The goal is to generate as many questions as possible. Next, discuss and evaluate the questions using a Depth of Knowledge (DoK) Question Rainbow (a poster made of four sheets of colored paper to make a continuum—blue for DoK Level 1, green for DoK Level 2, red for DoK Level 3, yellow for DoK Level 4). Work with students to place the questions they generate along the continuum. Discuss ways to rethink the questions so the Qs can move from LOQ's (lower-order questions) to HOQ's (higher-order questions).

Questioning skills develop when students think deeply about their ideas, so remember to incorporate ample wait time. Also, try to routinely provide feedback and celebrate when students pose insightful questions. Students need to understand the purpose of questioning and recognize that evaluation and improvement will help them master the art of inquiry. Questioning fuels students with wonder, excitement, and most important, a desire to learn!

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