5 ways to Build Inquiry in Your Classroom: Asking Questions

Asking questions is one of the foundational skills of learning, its something a lot of children do instinctively and can open the doors for great inquiry led learning.  However, its also something we can easily fall out of the habit of promoting in our classrooms. There can be any number of reasons for this; not enough time, worries about the direction/rigor of learning, difficult keeping students focused, etc. And yet – we know from so much work on inquiry, design thinking and agency that asking questions can lead to really powerful learning experiences for our students.  

Looking for ways to build more questioning into your classes? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Question mapping

Often young learners have SO many questions, especially when they are introduced to something new.  A great way to encourage asking questions is to document ALL of them (yep, all of them – well, maybe not obvious repeats).  This reinforces the message that asking questions is important, that we can all be successful, and that [in the right context] all questions are good.  

Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Share the topic/Central Idea/etc. with students 
  2. Give them some thinking time (see Idea 4) 
  3. Get students to share as many questions as they can.  They might tell them to you, write them on a post it, make a group mind map, add them to a flipgrid – whatever works for you.
  4. Review the questions together – encourage students to think about questions we should answer now [i.e. in the unit] versus those we can save for another time (a genius hour, perhaps?). 
  5. Make sure to display their questions somewhere – invite students to add to it more later if this works for you

Things to look for:

  • Are all your students able to form questions? 
  • Can students identify a topic and form questions to go with it? 
  • Which questions ignite their excitement?
  • Which mesh well with your plans for the unit?

Take it further:

  • Ask students to place stars next to the questions they consider to be strongest – can they identify useful questions?
  • Label questions by concept – as an IB PYP teacher I’m used to using the Key Concepts to help students choose which questions will fit our inquiry well. This begins by connecting concepts to questions 
  • Ask ‘What did we miss?’ – is there a question we haven’t asked that now comes to light when looking at the other questions?

Need a bit more help? Try this editable slideshow to guide you and your students through the process of asking and reviewing questions.

2. Wonder Walls

Question mapping is great at the beginning of a unit … but what about throughout a unit? Or questions unrelated to the immediate focus? 

Wonder Walls can be ongoing, student driven chances to explore things they are interested in.  They might be deeply connected to learning (how do we become active readers?) or not – but this provides an opportunity to document ‘wonders’ as they pop up, acknowledge their importance, but park them to tackle later.   

This really helps to make kids proud of being inquirers – when they fill up that wall they recognise how engaged they are!

3. Turn your objective/aims/outcomes into questions

Modeling is one of the most powerful tools we have as teachers, and by taking a lesson aim ‘We can count objects to 20’ and turning it into a question ‘What strategies might we use to count objects to 20?’ ‘Why is important to be able to count objects?’ we lead the way in questioning.  We also help our students to feel confident in making mistakes – we’re learning and exploring together rather than the teacher being the judge of our success.  

4. Build in thinking time before getting students to ask (as well as answer) questions

As teachers we often know the importance of thinking time and work to give kids more time to answer our questions … this works for asking questions too! Giving time to talk to a partner, think quietly, write down ideas, etc. all work well to extend thinking time without awkward silences.  Works best if you pair it with idea 5 (below)

5. Change your language 

Consider the difference:

  • Any questions?
  • Ask me a question
  • With a partner, think of 3 questions you still have or would like to explore

By changing our language to match the assumption that they DO have questions, we get stronger responses. This gives us great formative information about where our kids are; but it also reinforces the idea that learning keeps going! 

Asking questions is a skill many young kids have, but can lose if we don’t promote, encourage and support it.  I hope this post gives you a few simple strategies to try out in your classroom on your way to becoming an incredible inquiry teacher!

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