I’ll admit that as a child I incessantly asked “why?” questions. However annoying they might have been to my mom, I have realized how vitally important it is to ask questions. Not teachers asking questions (which is still good), but students creating questions.
Let’s try a little activity. I’m going to say a topic, and I want you to think of as many questions as you can that have anything to do with this topic. Get curious and try to make them something you actually want to learn. Ready? Okay, here it is: planets.
Finished? What did you come up with? Here are some of mine:
- Why do some planets have moons and others don’t?
- Where did the names of the planets come from?
- Who were the first people to discover planets?
- Why is Jupiter so big?
I don’t know about you, but I think this activity was actually kind of fun. Tests, presentations, and worksheets in schools usually focus on answering questions someone else has written. However, asking good questions spurs creativity, deeper thinking, and engagement. To ask those questions, I had to think for a minute and get creative. It made me pull from knowledge about planets that I already had (their names, some planets have moons, etc.) and then crank all that information through my thinking machine (aka my brain) and spit out a question. Doing this kept me engaged, and now I actually want answers to my questions.
In addition to those benefits, questions are really the base of every important discovery and accomplishment, even if the question is not explicitly stated.
- For the Wright brothers it was “How can we fly?”
- For the U.S. Founding Fathers it was “How can we create a good government?”
- For a championship basketball team it might be “How can we play better and more effectively?”
- For Joseph Smith it was “Which church is right?”
Each person or group of people didn’t simply answer a question, they asked it too. Because creating questions is so key, I want to integrate it in my future classroom. For example, when introducing a new topic, I want students to work individually or in groups to write or discuss as many questions as they can think of. I think this can involve many different students because there is no right answer, which means less pressure and more freedom to explore. In addition, one teacher commented that after having students ask questions, she has had multiple students remark that they “feel smart” (see comment from Ling-Se Peet, which is the fourth entry under “comments”). Learning to ask questions outside of the classroom adds excitement to life and is the key to being a lifelong learner.
If you’re interested in reading more, you can check out an article about a book outlining the student-created questioning process (here’s another page about the same book) or listen to my favorite BYU forum given by Michael Wesch where he talks about asking questions.