How to craft questions for deeper learning

Question generation is key to inquiry, goal-setting, and negotiated curriculum. And asking the right kinds of questions pushes students further. They need to know how to ask questions that lead toward deeper learning and effective goal-setting. Meanwhile, teachers need to be skilled at asking questions in a way that leads to deeper learning *for all*.

It’s a small ask, right?

Let’s look at some strategies to help learners with this skill.

The Question Formulation Technique

One place to start? This step-by-step guide:  Quick Guide to Using the Question Formulation Technique from the Right Question Institute.

Want to see this powerful technique in action? Check out these 5 Tips for Blending the Question Formulation Technique with NGSS. The Next Generation Science Standards are changing the way these middle school teachers orient their instruction. Question-generation can itself be a launching event for deeper learning.

“Ask Away Alley”

One activity from the NGSS video is “Ask Away Alley”. Teachers at this Ellington CT middle school papered a hallway with butcher paper. Then as students move through the space, they’re constantly reading the questions, and formulating others. The process is iterative and student-driven. Also, the teachers provide structure by adding categories to the questions. The hallway space changes daily. The questions push and needle. And students’ learning deepens.


Gamify the question generation process

Consider using The Question Game cube to add a layer of playfulness to finding effective solutions to problems through question generation. Learners roll a die with how, why, and if written on each side. Then those stems make it useful in many classroom settings. Helping students think through passion projects or negotiating curriculum? Roll for initiative!

…and 8 more.

And check out more strategies here at Eight Strategies to Help Students Ask Great Questions. The Socratic Seminar, for instance. It can create a space for gentle critical interrogation. And that space then enables *collaborative* question creation. Students in Marisa Kiefaber’s 5th grade class at Rutland Town School, in Rutland VT, took the Socratic Seminar and ran with it. Good norms really do make it easier to craft questions for deeper learning.

Which brings us to:

How can *educators* improve their own questioning skills?

Jackie Walsh, in Weaving SEL into our Classroom Questioning cautions us that many students “have never thought of the possibility that teachers ask questions to learn about where students are in their learning. They are conditioned to believe that they should volunteer to answer only when they are sure of the answer.”

In response, Walsh provides a means to break this pattern. Teachers can do direct instruction in determining the purpose of teacher questions. 

Questioning and the skill of question generation are at the heart of learning. Do you agree?

How do you and your students craft questions for deeper learning?

Susan Hennessey

Susan Hennessey is a reformed librarian and current professional development coordinator with a particular interest in digital credentials and scavenger hunts. She's addicted to flavored almonds, salty, crunchy snacks, and Google Hangouts.

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