It’s All in How You Ask the Question

Helping students develop investigable questions

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Children like to explore, wander, and discover new things. This natural curiosity drives their active participation in the process of learning and discovery. Their curiosity sparks questions about unfamiliar things.

Teachers can use student-generated questions to harness this curiosity and involve students in their own learning. But not all student-generated questions promote learning. Effective student-generated questions are higher order questions that require problem solving and critical thinking in order to solve. These questions are meaningful because they are driven by the students’ curiosities and are related to their interests.

Here are some ways to help students develop investigable questions that lead to inquiry, observation, and experimentation.

Provide generic sentence frames.

Generic sentence frames begin with a certain structure and can be used to form any question. For example, model for students how to develop an investigable question beginning with “What will happen if…” or “Why does…” or “Why are….”This gives students a basic structure for developing their questions.

Provide opportunities for hands-on learning.

Providing students with hands-on materials and objects they can look at, touch, and feel. By observing and manipulating objects, they can discover new things that can propel their thinking to try to make sense of what they are experiencing. This, in turn, elicits questions.

Let students practice refining questions.

Give students opportunities to assess questions to determine whether they are investigable, and refine non-investigable questions to promote exploration. To address the questions that are non-investigable, students can collaborate in groups to refine them to make them investigable. For example, students can use a checklist for creating investigable questions. The checklist can include things such as:

Can the question be answered by making observations, collecting data, making measurements, and/or changing variables?

Can the question be narrowed and focused enough to look at a single variable?

Do we have access to the necessary materials to help us answer the question?

Student-generated questions promote the process of critical thinking and exploration and leverage students’ sense of curiosity in the world around them.

Krystabelle Rodriguez is a graduate student at California State University, Fullerton.