Teaching Kids How to Ask Good Questions

If you don’t ask the right questions, every answer seems wrong.
– Ani DiFranco

There are no stupid questions.  But, there are definitely some questions that are better than others.

Questions have power.  A well crafted question hunts for answers at all times of the day.  A carefully composed question keeps working even when you are asleep.  A good question can’t be answered on the first page of search results.  A good question fosters wonder, curiosity, admiration and beauty.

I like to think that I was born asking good questions.  NOPE.  I was taught how. I was trained by experts – my parents.  Today, I bring many of my parents’ strategies into the classroom, as well as the wisdom of educators such as John Barell.

Here is a list of my Five favorite techniques:

1.  Respond to questions with questions: “Explain your thinking.”
Child: How do I do this?
Ms. M: How do you think?

Child: Is this right?
Ms. M: Why do you think it’s right? Explain your thinking.

2. Play Twenty Questions:
In our class we have a Wonder Box.  Each week one child is chosen to secretly put one thing inside the box.  The other children must try to guess what is inside.  This provides practice in listening to the questions and answers given by peers.  It is also an opportunity to exercise asking broad questions, such as, “Is it manmade?” or, “Is it something you use at school?”

3. Group Questions
The Magical Minds ask very specific questions. When we started a unit on inventions, they were wondering about specific inventors, “Who made the first wheel?” “Who made the most inventions?” When I asked them to group their questions together (a skill we have been working on all year), they began to see the bigger question: “Who are some important inventors?”

4. Think Solutions
Kids can easily get wrapped up in tattling.  My response, “I wonder if there’s a solution for that.” We use the “Comment Box” to hold kid issues, which we talk about as a group, working together to solve problems.  There are also many daily interactions which serve as opportunities for creative problem solving. And, slowly the Magical Minds are learning to find the question in the middle of a problem.

5. Record Random Questions
This year I started a “Google Questions” sheet.  It sits by our computer and acts like a depository for the strange and odd questions that pop up in life.  For example, “What is the difference between a male and female cow?”  These questions are then answered by the Librarian.  The Librarian is one of our classroom jobs, and it is their responsibility to take care of the classroom books AND research the Google Questions.

What techniques are you using in your classroom?  

How do you cultivate curiosity?


5 responses to “Teaching Kids How to Ask Good Questions

  1. Dear Erin,
    Great post on questioning. I like your wonder box idea and might try that in my first grade class. I teach in an English School in Quebec.
    Mary Ellen Lynch

  2. I loved this blog, and I certainly will have to use it with my students! Thank you so much for this insightful info 🙂

  3. Great post. I struggle sometimes with helping the kids ask bigger questions. Grouping their questions together is a great strategy! I’ll be trying that.

    I’m also filing away the Librarian job for when I return to an elementary position. Such a great idea!

  4. OK – you are the only other person in eight years who has quoted Barell in all my wanderings and reading. I love you post on questions and am a high school English teacher. I used questions recently as students read “Pride and Prejudice” and wrote out questions as groups. I suggested there were lower level, mid-level, and higher level questions, and asked them to design a “quiz” whose most important feature was the labeling of the critical thinking level of each question. The results indicated that they felt free to ask unresolved questions they really had (authentic inquiry) in addition to test out problem-posing and analyzing a character or situation.

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