Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Teaching Tools

How to Encourage Students to Question

In my latest article for Fusion Yearbooks, I offer some practical ideas for encouraging questioning in the classroom.  If we want future generations of students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, they must learn the importance of questioning – which is sadly a skill often discouraged by educators.

image from Flickr
image from Flickr

Here are links to some of my other Fusion blog posts:

Apps, Bloom's Taxonomy, Education, K-12, Teaching Tools

Stick Pick (Reblog)

I originally posted this 5 years ago.  I was recently discussing it with my colleagues because we are trying to work on better questioning, and thought it couldn’t hurt to reblog about this app.

Stick Pick is an app with great potential as a teacher tool. The teacher can add one or more classes within the app. To each class, the teacher adds individual student names, determining the type and level of questioning to use for each student from the following categories: Bloom’s Taxonomy, Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, or ESL. Once all students are entered, their sticks appear in a cup from which the teacher can randomly or purposefully choose names. As each student is chosen, a list of question stems from their particular assigned level appears on the screen. This is a wonderful way for teachers to differentiate impromptu questions for students.

Education, K-12, Teaching Tools

Actually, There IS Such a Thing as a Stupid Question


I’ve often questioned the saying that there are “no stupid questions.” In my experience, very few absolutes are true.

I understand the sentiment of the statement, of course.  As a teacher, I want my students to feel comfortable with speaking up when something does not make sense.  And I certainly don’t want to stifle anyone’s curiosity.

But you’re probably never going to hear me say, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”  Because I’ve heard some really dumb ones over the years – all of them spoken by yours truly. They are stupid because they: are counter-productive, usually reflect my own lack of planning or inflexibility, and sometimes make me want to sink into one of the drawers of my filing cabinet as soon as they escape my lips.

“Weren’t you listening when I gave the directions?” is a stupid question.  If a student is asking me about something I just went over, he or she either didn’t hear it, can’t remember it, or doesn’t understand it. In my case, it’s usually the second one.  Since I teach different grade levels each day, I sometimes forget that my younger ones can’t keep track of multi-step directions.  Of course, there are students who chronically tune me out when I go over instructions. After 20 years of research I’ve discovered that asking that question every time does not solve the problem.  As for not understanding the actual instructions, that rarely happens.  Applying them to the work at hand might be the challenge – but that’s just part of the fun 🙂

“Why do I hear people talking?” Yes, I’ve said this before.  And it’s to my students’ credit that they have never responded, “Because your imaginary friends want your attention.”  This question is not only stupid because there is no good response, but also because I am trying to encourage more collaboration.  What I need to do is teach more about the right ways to collaborate instead of wasting time and effort on trying to keep my students quiet.

“Could you please speak up?”  is probably what I should use for the rare times when I do need a silent classroom.  For some reason, I still say this, and it still has the exact same result it had when I first started teaching.  A quieter child.  I have tried varying my tone, rephrasing it, and using examples to no avail.  “Pretend you’re outside at recess!” is just as effective.  The only thing that gave my shy kids a voice was when I had a wireless mic and speaker system in my classroom.  My current school does not have a sound system, but I’m thinking of creating my own.  In my portable classroom, the heater overpowers these timid speakers, and they often have excellent contributions.

“Does that make sense?” When I ask a whole group this question, of course no one is going to shout out, “No, that was completely confusing!”  One solution is for me to talk less, so they have less to decipher.  When I do need some immediate feedback, I try to employ student response systems like Socrative or good, old-fashioned thumbs up/thumbs down.  The best way to tell, of course, is to take a good look at my audience.  If you know your students, you can pretty much tell by the looks on their faces if they “got it” or not.

And my favorite stupidest question ever:

“From now on, when we blow the recess whistle, would you boys please hold your balls?”  I only said it once – back when I was a 5th grade teacher to a bunch of students who kept dribbling basketballs while in line.  Yep, dumb.  But definite proof that stupid questions do exist.

So, do you have any to add to the list?

Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools

Socratic Questions

Socratic Questions, part of the website called Changing Minds, gives a brief summary of the origin of Socratic Questioning.  It then lists some fabulous question stems for encouraging deeper thinking from our students.  I would recommend printing this out, and keeping it nearby during classroom discussions.  In the frenetic pace of a typical school day, it can be difficult to spend time on critical thinking, but it really is essential for the learning of our students.