Encouraging questions

11093465225_95df3e80fa_mI need strategies to encourage students to ask their own questions. They answer mine and discuss topics, but when I ask them if they have any questions, I get a lot of blank looks. —A., Washington

Asking questions and defining problems is one of the science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Tapping into student thinking and curiosity goes beyond their asking procedural questions.

Teachers often say, “Any questions? Good.” with little or no time between the words “questions” and “good.” Without wait time, students don’t have an opportunity to think. And sometimes they don’t know what to ask. Take a look at the prompts you use to solicit questions. A context for questions (such as “Any questions about the…” “How could we determine…” or “What would happen if…”) with a few seconds of wait time may help students formulate their thoughts.

Some students may perceive asking questions as a sign of weakness. They might be interested but hesitant to show it. Or they may be afraid of being ridiculed. Remind students that there are no “dumb” questions and establish an environment of respect. Show interest in their questions, even if you’ve heard them many times before. Model the type of questions you want them to generate.

Sometimes students come up with questions that are not related to the topic. These might be teachable moments,  but if not, use a section of a bulletin board or wall space as a “parking lot” to save them for later discussion.

Student questions do not have to be oral. Strategies such as exit tickets, the “W” column of a Know/Want to know/Learned (KWL) chart, or the written results of a think-pair-share discussion can stimulate student questions.

Your guidance, encouragement, and positive feedback can provide a safe place for student to ask questions.


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  1. Sarah Hume
    Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    This is an interesting topic. Your comment that asking questions can be a sign of weakness has made me think. I want to figure out a way to flip that so that asking questions is a sign of strength maybe engaging more of a seminar style. This has given me a lot to think about thanks.

  2. Mary B
    Posted November 15, 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Asking questions is not a sign of weakness, although some students may perceive it as such. I would agree with you that it’s important to make the classroom a safe place to share ideas, ask questions, or discuss issues in an atmosphere of respect.

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