Student-centered classrooms ensure that students own their learning and few things do that as well as using student questions to guide lessons, projects, and discussions.
The problem is that, at first, students really struggle with creating their own questions. How often do we hear, “I don’t have any questions.” or even, “What questions should I ask, Mr. Lewer?”
This reveals the importance of developing their ‘questioning muscle.’ And in my last email (I elaborated on it in this blog) I went over some strategies that will help students start asking questions again. Using the “3 levels of questions” technique helps students understand how different questions lead them to different depths of thought.
But how do we get them to sharpen up their questions and recognize what makes a good question and how to improve upon less stellar ones?
5 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions
The Main Idea - The first step to helping students improve their questioning skills is to help them understand that generally better questions relate to the main idea or the main theme of the source or text they’re working with. While not always this case, this does give students' more focus and a guide for questions.
Start with Quotes - When I first do academic seminars, I hand out very simple sheets that task students with recording quotes that stick out to them and then creating questions related to those quotes. This simple support helps guide students who might otherwise have no idea what questions to ask.
They might not know what a cool quote like, “the pen is mightier than the sword” or “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” means, but the fact it stuck out to them shows there is something of interest there for them to think about. Coming up with a question will help them deepen their thinking and improve this skill.
Post-It Scramble - To do this, get students to put each question they have on its own Post-it and stick it to a whiteboard or their desks. As a group, they can sort them into what they feel would be the best questions to understand the topic or text. The ability for students to easily move and rearrange their questions can help them think through the merits of each question.
Reps, Reps, Reps 💪 - The absolute best way to help students improve their questioning skills is by giving the reps! Almost every lesson can include some opportunity for students to ask questions. You can include space on every worksheet for students to ask their own questions or task it as part of their bellwork or exit pass. Simple, but powerful over time.
Academic Discussions - Whether it's a Socratic Seminar, Socratic Smackdown, Harkness Discussion, or even table discussions, it helps if students can hear from their peers and how others are developing questions. Rather than just always answering teacher questions, fostering discussions allows students to openly question, wonder, and think through curiosities with their peers.
To me, there are few things more powerful than a classroom discussion.
And if you are interested in creating a more student-centered and inquiry-based classroom, check out my course, “Make History Engaging, Exciting, and Empowering.” The course is self-paced and designed to get even the most reluctant learners interested and enjoying history!
LEARN MORE ON TEACHING WITH INQUIRY IN HISTORY CLASSES