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.