Often students are pushed to develop questions on the spot, with little to no framework. Unsurprisingly, this often leads to low-level questions that lack clarity. However, with support and time to reflect, students can develop quality questions. We’ve gathered 5 questioning protocols that will help students to practice generating questions and collaborating with their classmates along the way. Pretty soon, you’ll be swimming in questions!
First, an aside: As you introduce a new protocol, it’s helpful to model the process yourself and provide question stems to guide their question development. Question stems are simply introductory phrases for questions, such as “Why is . . . ?” or “What do you think about . . . ?” These stems can be particularly helpful for students who struggle with the initial process of formulating a question, and they can be used with any of the following protocols. As students become more confident designing questions, these stems could become an optional resource.
1. Think, Pair, Square
Students collaboratively work with a partner to develop questions. Then, with group support, they refine their thinking.
- Pairs of students write two or more interesting questions.
- Pairs then share their questions with another pair.
- The four-person team will select the most thought-provoking question to use in a whole-class discussion.
2. 10 by 10
Students create ten questions about a topic in ten minutes (Berger, 2014). The time limit helps students to focus their thinking. 10 by 10 is useful after reading, before discussing a topic, or to activate student prior knowledge or interest in a topic.
- Provide a visual timer with ten minutes.
- Students should generate ten questions that spark student thinking.
- Select the best question to use in discussion.
3. Visual Cue
Post a captivating visual or show a media clip related to content that you’ve recently covered, then ask students to pose questions that will later be used for discussions. Often the use of a visual helps trigger students’ initial ideas.
For example, in a science classroom currently studying heredity (inheritance and variation of traits) or biological evolution (unity and diversity), a teacher could display a photo of unlikely animal friends and ask students to develop questions about the picture that connect to the standard.
- Select a visual or media clip that will spur students’ thinking.
- Have students design two to four thoughtful questions that connect to the learning target for the day.
4. Question Continuum
In this protocol, students create and evaluate questions for interest and complexity. This strategy helps students develop high-quality questions by building awareness of their questions’ relevance to content and the depth of thinking (Quigley, 2012).
- Post the Question Continuum on a display board or use a digital tool like Padlet. The horizontal axis would be termed “Interest Level” and the vertical axis would be termed “Complexity.”
- Explain the continuum to the students. For interest, the continuum represents how much the question relates to the content, inspires new ideas, and promotes debate and discussion. For complexity, it represents how well the question sparks critical thinking. Recall questions, closed questions, and factual questions are at the low end of the complexity axis, and questions that promote deep thinking are at the high end.
- Have students work in pairs and use two sticky notes to write two questions and post the questions in the appropriate places on the continuum. At least one should be in the higher-level quadrant.
- The teacher and students could examine the questions, discuss and evaluate their placement on the continuum, and select a few to use for a discussion.
5. Priority Questions
Priority Questions is a more extensive protocol completed in small groups. This method guides students to develop excellent questions (Rothstein & Santana, 2011) by teaching students to design a variety of questions while discouraging discussion about the questions themselves during the development process.
After the teacher introduces this protocol and explains the steps, students break up into small groups of 3 to 5 members. The teacher should identify the focus and set a timer for groups to work on steps 2 through 4. These questions can spark a discussion or become topics for driving future research.
- Identify the focus of the questions (the topic, issue, or main emphasis). It should spark interest and new thinking while deepening understanding. For example, “The scientific method must be followed” or “Torture can be justified” or “All U.S. citizens have freedom.”
- Construct as many questions as possible. This step encourages students to produce many options and promotes divergent thinking. The teacher should refrain from giving examples of questions during the brainstorming process to encourage students to think in a variety of ways.
- Record every question posed. This ensures that all voices in the classroom are heard.
- Do not discuss, evaluate, or answer any question during the brainstorming phase. This step promotes a safe environment and prevents any negative or unproductive comments from hijacking the process and stopping the flow of questions.
- Direct a conversation about closed and open questions and teach students the difference between them. While closed questions can be answered with a word or two, open questions tend to require elaboration or more detail. You can ask your students to classify their questions as open or closed, then practice changing closed questions into open ones. The teacher might suggest to the students to begin open questions with a “How” or “Why.”
- Prioritize the questions. Each group will select the three most important questions that they produced, called “Priority Questions,” for discussion. Each group reports back to the whole class with their rationale for selecting the three questions. This step requires students to compare, analyze, and evaluate the questions.
What are some other question protocols or processes that you’ve used with success in your classroom? Share your ideas in the comments or on Twitter to @mentoringminds.
Berger, W. (2014a). A more beautiful question. New York: Bloomsbury.
Berger, W. (2014b). Five ways to help your students become better questioners. Edutopia. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/help-students-become-better-questioners-warren-berger
Quigley, A. (2012 November 10). Hunting English blog post Retrieved from: http://www.huntingenglish. com/2012/11/10/questioning-top-ten-strategies/
Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. (2011). Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.