Teaching Students to Ask Great Questions

Voltaire wrote, “Judge others by their questions rather than their answers.”

In Make Just One Question, Rothsten and Santana make a compelling case for the value of teaching students to formulate questions, and that this skill can be taught across the curriculum.  In contemporary education, if it is not assessed then it is often not emphasized.  So what if we assessed student learning by the questions that they asked?  We ask questions and assess students based upon the answers that they give us? What if we spent more time giving students answers and inviting them to formulate substantive questions about it?  Once they ask a question, they can also develop the skills necessary to find and learn more about the answers to these question.  To skip the step of teaching students to ask questions about life and the world around them turns school, once again, into a fish distribution center rather than a place that offers fishing lessons.

  • What if students learn to take responsibility for asking the questions?
  • What if we assessed student learning by the types of questions that they asked, the nuance, insight, and perspective revealed by a great question?
  • Paulo Friere wrote that, “No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to ask, ‘why?'”  What if we spent more time teaching students to ask and explore the “why” questions?
  • As Naguib Mahfouz wrote, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.  You can tell if he is wise by his questions.” Could teaching students to ask questions be a means of helping them to cultivate wisdom?
  • What if we encouraged students to persist in asking, “What would happen if…?” even into adulthood?

Where do we start? I offer three possibilities.

1) Teach students about Bloom’s Taxonomy Question Stems – Teachers know Bloom’s Taxonomy because they were likely taught to use it to create learning objectives and design learning experiences that become increasingly complex.  Some also learned to use it to post more effective questions to students, using something like the question stem document linked to above.  Why not teach students to do the same thing, using the question stems as a sort of template or starting point in learning to ask questions.

2) Review some of the good books on teaching questioning.  Here are a few that might help out.  Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comment section as well.

3) Study great questions – Some questions changed the world, as noted by the honors course at University of Nebraska Lincoln called, Great Questions That Have Changed the World. You might want to check lists like this one, Greatest 101 Questions of All Time.




Posted in blog, education, heutagogy, self-directed learning

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.