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100 Questions That Help Students Think About Thinking

100 Questions That Help Students Think About Thinking

by Terry Heick

Last year I wrote a post on how to help students think for themselves. TeachThought reader Peter Duckett wrote me a few months later with these questions below that he added in order to facilitate their use in the classroom. I’ve added some myself, and am going to continue to add more after giving you a chance to do so.

In the comments below, suggest a question for one of the categories below and I’ll add them to the list. I’m going to continue to refine the list–remove some that may not be clear, and add others we missed on the first go round.

Leave your twitter username and I’ll credit you next to the question.

Let them watch their predictions play out

  • What do you think will happen?
  • What do you think will happen to the …?
  • What do you think will happen when…?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why do you think it happened?

Let them form theories, and immediately test and revise those theories based on observation

  • What do you think?
  • How can you test out your thinking?
  • What do you think now that you’ve tested your thinking?

Give them the right collaboration with the right “mind” at the right time

  • With whom could you work to figure this out?
  • Who else might understand this better/differently than I do?
  • Who else might find this interesting?

Allow them to read with choice–without guidelines or external pressure

  • What would you like to read if you could read anything without anyone listening to you or testing you or telling you what you can and cannot read?

Let them play with content or dynamic learning tools–no goals or prompting or rules (other than basic common sense, safety, etc.)

  • What would you like to play with?

Let them see the parts of the whole, and the whole of the parts

  • What parts do you see in this?
  • How do the parts work together to make the whole?

Help them realize the interdependence between content and themselves

  • How does this relate to/connect with you?
  • What’s the text-to-self connection?

Make sure they are motivated to know themselves

  • What do you know about yourself?
  • What does this let you know about yourself?

Help them serve others, and learn to value themselves and their own human utility in the process

  • Who might you help?
  • How might you be helpful?
  • What do you discover about yourself in the process?

Help guide them to write about something complex, personal, emotional, or meaningful

  • What is something in your life that you’ve seen, felt, or experienced? How was it complex?
  • What made it personal–to you or someone else?
  • What were the related emotions?
  • Why was it meaningful to you or someone else?

Help guide them to write about something complex, personal, emotional, meaningful, or seemingly trite

  • Who are the people and what are the things that you carry in your heart?
  • What can you write about that reveals what’s in your heart?

Teach them to meditate (seeing without thinking during, thinking about thinking after)

  • What can you see when you stop thinking?
  • What can you discover when you think about your thinking?

Help them start with what they don’t know–this will guarantee that they think for themselves, as it provides each student with their own launching pad

  • What do you not know about this?
  • How do you know you don’t know?
  • What might you do to find out?

Allow them to navigate “unfiltered” sources of information

  • Where are all the places you could get information?

Encourage them to begin to separate basic epistemology–the differences between information, knowledge, and wisdom, for example

  • Is this information, knowledge or wisdom?
  • How do you know?

Help them attempt to transfer understanding (prompted)

  • Can you do/make …?
  • How did you do it?
  • Can you show how you did it?
  • How could you apply your understanding in the world?
  • Where are all the places and under what circumstances might your understanding be useful in the world?

Allow them to attempt to transfer understanding on their own

  • What are ways could you use this in the real world?
  • Can you do it?
  • How did you do it?
  • Can you show how you did it?

Encourage them to believe they can, and make the choice to not be denied

  • What is something you believe you are capable to do but are being told no or someone is roadblocking?

Allow them to practice, practice, practice in the company of some kind of feedback loop

  • What do you want to practice, practice, practice?
  • Is there something you like to do over and over and over again in an effort to get better at it?
  • How can you know that you are getting better at whatever you are practicing?

Teach them to make mistakes without blame

  • When did you learn something important from making a mistake?
  • Why was it an important mistake to make?

Help them explore something they see as mysterious, untamed, or socially “disallowed”

  • What do you wonder about?
  • How might you explore it?

Allow them to receive learning feedback from someone just beyond their own “level”

  • Who can do this slightly better than you?
  • What can they tell you that would help you get better?

Teach them to try to find the common ground between seemingly disparate positions

  • What do these two conflicting groups/perspectives have in common?

Encourage them to think critically about the what others perceive as mundane

  • What new ideas can you see in something that everyone else sees as being normal?
  • How could you reinvent something that everyone takes for granted?
  • Can you put a new wrinkle on it?

Make sure they think frequently about complex ideas or situations

  • Can you name a situation or something complex?
  • What do you know about it?
  • What do you wonder about it?
  • What new thoughts can you come up with?

Help them to realize everything is infinitely complex when you see information as a matter of perspective (this causes an endless chain of other realizations if they’re willing to consider it long enough)

  • How many perspectives can you find on a situation or topic or object of your choice?
  • Who are all the people who have a perspective on it?
  • Why do they have their perspective?
  • What is your perspective?

Encourage them to be bored and allow that boredom to “sit”

  • How can you allow boredom to inform you?
  • What does it do to your mind to be bored?

Allow their mind to wander

  • If I give you an hour, what can you do?
  • What’s the difference between focus and distraction? Is it relative? Black and white?
  • If you allow your mind to wander, can you follow the journey of where it takes you?

Encourage them to play video games or learning simulations

  • What’s the difference between a video game and learning simulation?
  • What can you learn from video games or learning simulations?
  • If you designed a video game, what would be or do?
  • If you designed a simulation, what would you choose to simulate? How would you begin to design and create such a thing?

Teach them to set goals with extrinsic or intrinsic rewards

  • What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?
  • What goals can you set for yourself with extrinsic rewards?
  • What goals can you set for yourself with intrinsic rewards?

Help them sense an authentic need to know or understand

  • What one thing can you identify that you truly need to know or understand?

Ask them what they stand for, and why

  • What does it mean to stand for something?
  • Who do you know that’s stood for something? What happened?
  • Why is ‘standing for something’ a universal theme in stories?
  • What do you stand for? Why?

Leave them alone

  • How do you feel when you’re alone?
  • What might you learn from being alone?
  • What can you accomplish if I give you space?

Make sure they hear “something” in multiple times in multiple ways from multiple perspectives and voices

  • What does it mean to see an idea from multiple perspectives? What are the best examples you can give?
  • What can you hear in multiple times, in multiple ways, and from multiple perspectives and voices?

Help guide them to recognize the nuance in other people’s thinking

  • How can thinking be nuanced?
  • What happens when it’s not?
  • What nuances can you notice in other people’s thinking?

Help them to honor the limits of human knowledge

  • What is the difference between information and knowledge?
  • What is something from the ‘real world’ that is somehow ‘limited’ in its power?
  • When have human beings (dramatically) exceeded the limits of their own understanding?
  • What are the limits of knowledge? How do they change and not change?
  • How is knowledge changing?

Encourage them to operate within their Zone of Proximal Development–the ZPD of that student for that standard (which is really, really difficult to promote consistently)

  • What could you accomplish with the support and guidance of a knowledgeable “other” and then grow to be able to do it independently?

Make sure they have meaningful choices at every step

  • What would be a meaningful choice for you right now in your learning process?

Make sure they are given the support to self-direct their own learning

  • What support do you need right now to be self-directing in your own learning?

Encourage them to make things

  • What can you make?

Help them to see the value of their own performance

  • What was effective in your work/performance?

Give them personalized direct instruction

  • What coaching/instruction would be helpful to you at this moment?

Allow them to hear a well-written lecture

  • Where might you hear a well-written lecture?
  • Why might that be helpful?

Help guide them to think about their own thinking

  • What do you notice about your own thinking?

Encourage their passions to lead them into spaces where learning can occur on its own

  • What are your passions?
  • If you followed your passions, where would they take you?

Help them honor uncertainty

  • How might uncertainty be a good thing?

Make sure they are able to establish their own relevancy for content

  • What is relevant to you in this content/material? Why?

Encourage them to ask their own questions–and then ask better questions

  • What question might you ask to understand this better?
  • Can you come up with an even better question than that?

Encourage opportunities for inquiry to meet a motivated mind

  • About what things do you deeply wonder?

Guide them to dynamic spaces characterized by people, thought, and creativity (rather than intricate policies, rules, and standards)

  • Where might you go to find interesting people, intriguing thoughts and boundless creativity?

Expose them to something worth doing, and is expertly gamified

  • What is most worth doing?

Help them to confront and internalize diversity and divergence

  • How are diversity and divergence valuable?

Encourage them to revisit their past mistakes, thinking patterns, and moments of genius

  • What can you learn from your past mistakes, thinking patterns, and moments of genius?

Guide them to seek self-awareness not content-awareness

  • What do you know to be true about yourself?

Help them to not take anything too seriously beyond playful curiosity

  • Where and when do you engage in playful curiosity?

Encourage them to trust themselves to fail

  • Under what conditions can you trust yourself to fail?
  • How might failing be useful?

Allow them to see their own progress

  • How has your thinking changed about an idea or topic? What impacted your thinking?
  • Based on changes in your thinking so far, how might your thinking change in the future?
  • What might influence that? (What happens if you don’t know?)
  • What control do you have over the influences on your thinking?

Guide them in studying patterns

  1. What patterns do you notice?
  2. What do the patterns tell you?

Make sure they can explain the significance of an idea, skill, or other academic topic

  • What is the significance of this idea, skill, or academic topic to me, to others in the field, to the world?

Allow them to see or experience affectionate modeling

  • Where do you see or have you experienced affection, caring, compassion, and/or empathy?

Make sure they are mentored with love

  • Who has mentored you with love? What effect did that have?
  • How might you do that for others?

100 Questions That Help Students Think About Thinking image attribution flickr user peterlindberg