Strategies to Help Students Ask Questions

Questions are extraordinary learning tools. A good question can open minds, shift paradigms, and force the uncomfortable but transformational cognitive dissonance that can help create the world’s greatest thinkers. In education, we tend to value a student’s ability to answer questions, but what might be more important is her ability to ask her own great questions–and more critically, her willingness to do so. Here are 5 strategies for getting students to ask meaningful questions in the classroom.

1. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework for critical thinking that imagines any learning product, goal, or objective as a ‘thing,’ (i.e., a subject of some kind, such as mitosis, a mathematical formula, a political concept, a poet, etc.), then suggests different ways to think about said thing. It is designed to promote comprehensive thinking about seemingly disconnected ideas.

For example, literary devices such as metaphors or personification are usually studied in isolation. With Bloom’s Taxonomy, the student would confront the device in much more diverse cognitive terrain, and think about the device in multiple ways for a more complete picture and advanced understanding. The framework can be used not only as a planning or assessment tool, but also to promote students in self-directed learning and self-created questioning and examination. In short, students can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to create their own questions.

2. Power verbs are words that describe cognitive actions. Add some kind of framework or hierarchy, and you’ve got a full taxonomy. So much can be done with digital taxonomy power verbs to help students ask great questions without spending a penny. From designing projects and refining assessments to classroom discussions and digital citizenship lessons, the actions of students are among the most critical components of any learning experience.

3. A Socratic discussion is a group learning strategy designed to support students in open-ended examination and extended critical thinking through dialogic terms. In short, students learn as a group by talking with one another in an open, student-led format. This dialectical method of learning is inspired by Socrates’ iconic teaching methods, which depend on patterns of theory formation, revision, and elimination to arrive at loosely-held truths. Used strategically, this approach can promote inquiry as learning, and the close examination of one’s own beliefs as primary catalysts for learning.

4. A Paideia Seminar is similar to the Socratic Seminar; in fact, it uses Socratic discussions on the part of the students, combined with a minor but clear role for teachers, to facilitate verbal and critical examination of ideas. The seminar is an integrated literacy event built around formal, whole class dialogue. The purpose for doing a Paideia Seminar is to support students’ ability to think conceptually and communicate collaboratively. One of the key differences between a Paideia Seminar and a Socratic Seminar is that within the Paideia format, teachers assume a role, provided that this role does not exceed 10% of the total discussion.

5. The Question Game focuses on teaching children a kind of thinking which is particularly useful in creative problem-solving. It is a focused approach to get from the problem to the most effective solution. It works best with repetition in groups, as this solidifies the thought pattern and encourages exploration of alternative responses and creativity. The use of dice not only makes the game more fun, but also introduces a level of gamification and playful uncertainty into the process, and its open-ended and universal stems make it practical for a wide variety of classroom applications.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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