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Teaching Students to Ask the Best Questions
Sharon Longert

Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.
(Postman & Weingarten) 

Questions are powerful tools for students. Student development of specific individual questions helps them to interpret media, form personal opinions, see relationships, make connections, draw conclusions, and move to the critical thinking/learning stage. If our students are going to be successful in the 21st Century, they will need critical and creative thinking skills. With the application of questioning skills they can sort through on-line information, make decisions, take action, self-analyze, and set goals (Koechlin & Zwaan). All as a result of knowing how to ask the right question.

Standardized exams in social studies and science at the 4th – 12th grade level ask students to interpret Authentic Documents. Being able to “read” visual images and ask and answer questions helps to interpret these documents and make connections to critical ideas.

Task:  Explore a scene or picture from a text or historical document and prompt students with these questions to write a paragraph about the picture.

  • Where is the scene located?
  • What is happening now?
  • What happened just prior to this?
  • What might happen next?
  • Who is in the picture?
  • Who is not present, but may be involved?
  • What are you reminded of?

Ask students to project themselves into the scene and go back in time. What do they see, smell or hear?
Have students research the time period in the library or on-line.
Reconstruct a day in the life of the person/people in the picture.

Students who can recall these questions for the next visual image/document assignment will produce well-organized answers. By asking the best possible question, they are likely to formulate the best possible answer.

Koechlin, Carol, Zwaan, Sandi, Q Tasks – How to Empower Students to Ask Questions and Care About Answers, 2006, Pembrooke.
Postman, N., Weingarten, D., Teaching as a Subversive Activity, 1969, Dell.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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