The Headwaters program uses student-driven research ideas to engage kids in topics they are learning. When students come up with an idea–however wacky–for an experiment of their own, they tend to be more willing to delve deeper into the topic at hand and make use of tools like mathematics or statistics to accomplish their goals. However, it is not always easy to get students asking good questions. Today we will share with you some strategies we, at Headwaters Science Institute, use to bring out the question asking talent in our students.

1.Create an environment where there are no bad questions

While some questions may be more insightful than others, students must truly believe that no question they ask could be a “bad question.” To promote such an atmosphere, we avoid adding value judgements to student questions. While saying “Great question Tim!” seems harmless, it could lead another student to doubt that their question was as good as Tim’s. Instead, try to thank students for their contribution without assigning value to the question they asked.

2. When it comes to background knowledge, sometimes less is more

Prepping students with the right amount of background knowledge is key. Give too little and it can be difficult to keep students on topic. Give too much and risk losing the originality of their questions. Background information best functions as a teaser, giving students just enough knowledge to start asking questions on a topic while leaving plenty of room for them to explore.

3. Answering a student’s question isn’t always the best response

My favorite answer to any student question is “Well, what do you think?” When a student asks a question which I have a ready answer for, it can be very difficult to hold back that information. However, coaching a student to answer their own question creates a far stronger connection between the student and the information than an instantaneous answer. Encouraging students to build off questions their group has already asked helps keep the cycle of inquiry going and helps students think deeper about the topic at hand.

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a question-asking enthusiast, we hope these tips help you get kids asking questions. If you think we left anything out or have a favorite strategy for helping students ask questions, please add it in the comment section.

3 thoughts on “3 Tips to Boost Student Question Asking

  1. The best thing you can do is say “there is no such thing as a dumb question.” People who don’t ask questions are dumb. The person who collects your rubbish knows more about rubbish collection than you. Ask questions without judgement.

  2. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing.
    Another strategy I like to use in my classroom is to use an “I Wonder…” poster. It comes in handy when I do not know the answer to a question, or, there is not sufficient time to delve deeper into answering the student’s question. Students feel honored to be able to post their idea on the poster which is laminated and used with a vis a vis marker and not shouldered off with their thinking by a teacher. We answer I Wonder questions as a free activity when other work is completed and a student needs a next step.

  3. I love these ideas, particularly answering questions with questions to prompt next level thinking. It’s always interesting to find out how deeply students are willing to think about things, when you remove the construct of the one right answer. In science particularly we can praise strong testable hypotheses, or thoughtful mistakes. I was on a school visit a few years ago and the science teacher I was observing had prompts around the room to “make a mistake today” even a board for the best “wrong” answers of the week. These types of practices help remove the stigma around traditional discourse: teacher asks question looking for correct answer or cookbook hypothesis, student is wrong or right. Right answers mean we move to the next thing. Developing, interesting questions, testable questions, diverse questions means that students are aware that scientific phenomena aren’t one dimensional. Nice post guys!

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