TEACHING KIDS HOW TO ASK THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS
Children are only in school for a limited amount of time, but they will never stop learning. So it’s most important we teach them how to learn. Reading and maths are pretty essential, but it is the desire to seek out knowledge and the skills to learn new things that will serve them best in the long run. One of the fundamentals of this knowledge seeking process is the ability to translate your curiosity into answers. The best way to do this of course, is to ask questions. Asking questions is a vital part of gaining knowledge and kids learn to do it from a young age. The trouble is, as they grow older, they need to learn how to ask good questions. If you spend long enough searching, you will always find an answer.
How much time you spend looking, and whether it is an acceptable answer or not depends on your ability to ask the right questions of the right people. Even Google works better if you know how to ask the right questions. What constitutes a ‘good question’ is a moving target, but the best way to learn is to try, so here are a few tips for encouraging thoughtful questions in your classroom.
Far too often, asking questions is seen as a sign of weakness. If people don’t know how their questions will be received, asking questions leaves them vulnerable. It is therefore essential to create an environment where asking questions becomes a strength. One way to do this is to run regular group exercises dedicated to coming up with questions – no answers necessary. Set rules so that questions are respected, and make sure they are written down to show that they are valued. Questions only’ exercises can be a lot of fun, especially when students’ imagination comes into play.
‘The 5 whys’ can be a fun way to harness kids’ innate desire to question, and it is an excellent way to get to the bottom of any topic. You ‘play’ by introducing a topic and encouraging students to ask a question that starts with ‘Why?’ Most of us have unintentionally played this game at some point, but intentionally setting a limit on the number of ‘whys’ forces the child to think about the question. Thinking about the question encourages them to come up with more precise and useful questions. These why questions can also be a great starting point for a question cycle of ‘Why? What if? How?’ These questions show up constantly in inventors’ stories. For example, Polaroids were invented when Edwin Land’s daughter asked him why she couldn’t see the photo he took immediately. He thought, what if you could develop the film inside the camera? Which led him to think about how he might make that possible. ‘Why? What if? How?’ questions are also an excellent way to start the creative writing process.
Scholastic Canada has an excellent article about different types of questions and how to answer them. Teaching kids to think about the significance of questions is a big step towards asking good ones. Question-based learning is an excellent way to encourage collaboration in your students. Going all the way back to Socrates, students have used patterns of questioning to form and revise theories. Having an open and respectful discussion where students develop, question, and revise theories promotes inquiry as integral to the learning process.
The main thing that has kept me asking questions throughout my life is curiosity. Asking questions makes your world a bigger and more interesting place. Communicating this to kids is a great way to get them thinking about the things that they want to know more about. After all, that is how everything we know today was learned and discovered. It was explorers asking ‘What’s over there?’ scientists asking ‘How does this work?’, and artists always asking ‘Why?’ that got us to this point. Which questions will get us to the future?
Remember, if you are feeling overwhelmed with planning, you’re spending too much time on school work and not enough at home with your family, your leisure time is non-existent…we give you all this free-time back by planning, preparing and creating teaching resources that have been developed by classroom teachers who have over 40 years’ experience teaching children in the classroom.
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