What Are The Best Questions To Help Students Think About What They Think?
contributed by Lisa Chesser
Using the right questions creates powerful, sometimes multiple answers and discussions. Aristotle said that he asked questions in response to other people’s views, while Socrates focused on disciplined questioning to get to the truth of the matter.
Ultimately questions spark imagination, conjure emotions, and create more questions. The questions asked by a teacher or professor are sometimes more glaringly valuable than the information transferred to the students. Those questions spark a thought, which leads to a fiercely independent search for information.
If students are the ones gathering that information then they’re the ones learning it and student-driven learning cements lessons into the students’ minds making any lesson more powerful with this strategy. Even though the following list of questions is broken into Mathematics, Literature and Science and Social Science, it’s really just a set of philosophically challenging questions that should be applied to any learning environment.
The questions are unrestricted and open the mind up to unfettered thought, perfect for innovation and understanding. The sections begin with Mathematical Questions because for the purpose of this list they’re the most general and therefore the most useful.
Within the realm of mathematics, there are certain types of questions that build up to those aha moments or topple barriers. Those are the questions that change a learner forever. They change a person because finally, the answers can only be found within.
The addition of philosophical questioning to mathematics enhances critical thinking in every learner. Basic principles of understanding help create solid ground, but questions build powerful architecture with which structures tower over one another.
Reflection & Collaboration
1. What do you think about what was said?
2. How would you agree or disagree with this?
3. Are there any other similar answers you can think of with alternative routes?
4. Does anyone in this class want to add something to the solution?
5. How might you convince us that your way is the best way?
6. How did you determine this to be true?
7. Why didn’t you consider a different route to the problem?
8. Why does that answer make sense to you?
9. (in response to an answer):…what if I said that’s not true?
10. Is there any way to show exactly what you mean by that?
11. Why do you think this works? Does it always? why?
12. How do you think this is true?
13. Show how you might prove that?
14. Why assume this?
15. How might you argue against this?
16. How might you show the differences and similarities?
17. What patterns might lead you to an alternative answer?
18. How many possibilities can you think of and why?
19. Predict any number of results?
20. How does this relate daily occurrences?
21. Which ideas make the most sense and why?
22. Which problems feel familiar? Why?
23. How does this relate to current events?
24. What kinds of examples make this problem workable?
25. What other problems fit this style or example?
Buried in every story lives a student’s own life. Anyone can relate to at least one character or dive into at least one plot twist. But, the more foreign a story, the more important the questions should be.
Students may resist the idea that they can relate to certain characters depending on their ethnicity or economic background, but deep, concentrated questions show students the story really isn’t that foreign at all and also help students think about deeper meanings.
The following questions could be applied to any story, no matter how long or short, difficult or easy. Vary them and add to them depending on how the discussion flows.
26. How did any of the characters or events remind you of yourself? Why?
27. How did the character’s actions affect you? Explain.
28. If you were this character, how would the story change?
29. What surprised or confused you about the characters or events? Explain.
30. Why do you think the author wrote from this character’s view?
31. What do you think the author is trying to accomplish?
32. How is the author thinking about the world?
33. How would the story change from another character’s view?
34. Why do you think this story could actually happen, or not?
35. How can this story teach us something about our lives?
36. How do you think the characters resolved the major conflict in the story?
37. How would you have resolved it?
38. How would you change the end of the story and why?
Science and Social Questions
Within the idea of the Scientific Method, the hypothesis stands as the ultimate question. But, there are so many more questions a scientist must ask in order to answer that one question.
The challenging questions, however, make this a universal process streaming into other subject matter and delving into deeper waters. Here are some questions to sink into and use across curriculum as well as within science itself.
39. What’s the purpose of this experiment or argument?
40. Would you elaborate on the purpose of this?
41. What issues or problems do you see here?
42. What evidence or data are given that help make this worthwhile?
43. What are some of the complexities we should consider?
44. What concepts help organize this data, these experiences?
45. How can you justify this information?
46. How can we verify or test that data?
47. What details can you add to make this information feel more complete?
48. Which set of data or information is most relevant or important?
49. How is all of this consistent or inconsistent?
50. How am I seeing or viewing this information? Objectively or subjectively? Should I then change my view?
A former Publications Specialist at Florida International University where she also received a bachelor’s degree in English, Lisa Chesser left the publishing field to pursue a career in education. In her first three years of teaching Language Arts, she won an Excellence in Teaching Award for helping students achieve 50 percent learning gains. Because she’s also a writer, an editor, and an artist by trade, students often take more interest in their learning environment because she teaches them the value of it in the workplace; metacognition