Resource 4: Encouraging student questions
Teacher resource to support teaching approaches
Getting students to generate their own questions
For students to ask questions about something they are studying they need to feel that asking questions is a good thing, and that they won’t be laughed at or thought stupid for asking.
Things you can do
You can encourage students to ask questions by giving replies like ‘That’s a good question! What do you think?’, or ‘Shall we find out?’ or ’Hmmm… let’s find out!’.
This raises two important points:
- It is usually better not to simply give students the answer, but to encourage more thinking.
- You need to have thought about the kind of questions that students might ask, so you have things ready in your room to try out ideas. This might mean a simple additional practical activity that would help students to understand the point more thoroughly, or might be a way of testing out their predictions, or it might mean using the internet or reference books to see if they have any answers. In the latter case, it is important to ask students to think about what are the key words or questions they might use in a search, and help them to rephrase those suggestions into something useful, rather than telling them what to look for.
Another way of promoting a spirit of enquiry is to have something set up and working, or some unusual items as ‘talking points’, so students can ask you ‘What is that for?’ ‘What does this do?’ and engage you in a conversation about it.
When something unexpected happens, it can make people review their understanding, so it is important to include demonstrations that include something which students will find surprising along with demonstrations that illustrate an important point. It is also important to ask students to predict what they think will happen before they see what does happen, and to be prepared to repeat an activity, so they can get the full benefit from this.
You can show that you value enquiry by being a role model. When something ‘odd’ or unexpected happens, let them hear you wonder why that was, and be ready to look for answers.