The Right Kinds of Questions
Typically we think of the five W’s and one H when considering questions - who, what, when, where, why and how. When you think of the possible answers these words might elicit, you should be able to differentiate between a high-level and low-level question.
The first four words, who, what, when, and where, will produce simple, low-level answers. For example, the question “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?” would be answered simply with ,”Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” Done. End of inquiry. That is an example of a low-level question.
The last two words, why, and how, will produce deeper, higher-level answers that will probably encourage further questioning. And further learning.
Questioning in the Content Areas
Asking good questions brings deeper learning to every content area, but will have slightly different applications depending on the subject being learned. Three examples of the power of content-area questions are below.
Asking questions in math is crucial for understanding. When concepts become more complex, with multiplying and dividing, for example, misunderstandings are bound to occur. It is critical that the learner be comfortable asking clarifying questions.
Flexible thinking is a big component of math. There are multiple ways to arrive at the same solution to a problem, and asking questions can help drive this point home.
While working collaboratively, questions like, “How did you get that answer?” or “Could I do it this way?” can help students to reflect on their own thinking as well as learn from others.
For a competent reader, questioning is automatic. Think of the last book you read, or television show/movie you watched. Getting more deeply involved in the plot, your mind naturally generates questions like, “Why did he do that?” or “I wonder if she committed the crime.”
Asking questions helps the reader to understand the author’s purpose, get to know the characters better, clarify meaning, and make inferences and predictions. All of the higher-level thinking we want to happen during the reading process is closely aligned with asking questions.
So many topics under the umbrella of social studies are tied to WHY.
•Why does India have the caste system?
•Why did the colonists want freedom from Britain?
•Why did Alabama governor George Wallace say, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
Questions like these inevitably lead to more questions, and hopefully, to deep and critical thinking. Who, When and Where will produce answers, but How and Why will lead to deeper learning.
Asking good questions is not just for teachers - it’s for students, too. Learning comes not from memorization and regurgitation, but from dialogue and discussion.
About My Guest Blogger
- Classroom Teacher
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