Getting students to ask questions can be like pulling teeth! Since Socrates’ time, educators have long known that students’ ability to learn depends upon their capacity to ask questions and seek answers. However, many students are unwilling or unable to ask their own questions, afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of their peers and their instructors. Keep reading for some best practices to spark your students’ curiosity so they start asking critical questions.
- Answer anonymous questions. Your students have questions but rarely ask any! When you cannot seem to get anything but blank stares from your students, try passing out index cards or using an app like Piazza so students can submit questions anonymously. Allowing anonymity takes the pressure off and can reduce feelings of awkwardness. As an added bonus, this can also show you where gaps in student understanding are.
- Establish criteria for questioning. Help your students get better at asking questions by giving them explicit guidelines for how to do so. This will clarify the purpose behind students’ questions and increase the breadth of the questions that they ask. Have your students generate questions and then categorize them into clusters. By attaching labels for question groups, such as “factual answers,” “subjective answers,” or “debatable,” students can understand the reason behind their questions. Categorizing questions help students analyze the varying attributes and purposes of questions and gets them to start asking better questions.
- Provide opportunities for peer feedback. Some students are afraid to ask questions in front of a large group. By having breakout groups prior to a class discussion, students can exchange questions with a partner to receive feedback that helps them to formulate their questions. Providing a guide or a rubric on how to give constructive feedback may help the partner improve upon their own questions as well. This process will also reduce anxiety so that students become more willing to repeat their question in front of the rest of the class.
- Use the Question Formulation Technique. The Question Formulation Technique is a structured way to help people generate questions and can prove to be a powerful and motivating way for students to learn. First, give your students time to develop as many questions as they can, telling them not to worry if it’s a “good” or “bad” question. After the initial brainstorm, ask students to work with their own questions and turn their closed-ended questions into open-ended questions (which require more thought and more than a one-word answer). This experience of asking and modifying questions increases the relevance of the questions being asked and encourages a genuine interest in trying to find the answer.