It is inevitable that near the end of every field trip the person presenting to the group asks, “Does anyone have any questions?” The room may fall silent. Often this has to do with the energy the presenter emits to the group, however sometimes students need encouragement. But when one brave soul raises her hand and asks a question, then another and another, meaningful discussions can take place. It is in these situations that students truly learn.
Students engage with a topic when they ask questions about it. They make connections with the information presented, and the exciting part is, asking questions can lead to new thoughts and ideas about the topic. Here are some ways to encourage questioning in your classroom and on field trips.
- Make it safe Our society typically praises the people in the know – the ones with the answers. So it can be scary to ask a question in front of a group of people, especially your peers. When you ask a question you are admitting you don’t know the answer. So teachers must create an environment where there are no lame questions. Designate a safe haven where students can freely ask questions without being judged or edited.
- Make it fun Play some games with questions, so students feel at ease with developing questions. Ask students to turn some answers or statements into questions. Have them turn closed questions into open questions. Present students with a problem that is important to the entire class and have them develop a series of questions that could lead to the root of the problem. Have students ask Why? What if? And How?
- Make it worthwhile Asking a question can spark an idea in another student. When students see how asking questions is like sharing ideas, even the “craziest” question can turn into something that is worthwhile. Ask students if the question that was posed makes them wonder something else. Maybe a question will spark a new topic, a class project, or an original creation/solution.
- Make it a habit Encourage students to see everyday objects with fresh eyes. Bring back that wonder students had when they were 3 and 4-years old, asking a million questions every hour. Then have students question their assumptions.
When introducing a new topic ask students to write down five questions that they wonder about the topic. Be sure to circle back to the questions after having presented the lesson on the topic. Students should then evaluate their questions and write down new questions, possibly expanding on their previous questions or forming new questions based on the information presented. For example, students might wonder what scientists are looking for using the rover Curiosity on the planet Mars. After learning about Mars, they might ask a larger question about what kinds of life might exist in our universe. An entire world could potentially open before their very eyes with just one question.