+ Asking Questions: Types, Structure, Leading a Discussion

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From YouthLearn.org, a technology, media & project-based learning site, here are some thoughts about inquiry-based learning.  http://www.youthlearn.org

Three Types of Questions

  • Factual — Only one correct answer (“What did you eat this morning?”)  They can be complicated, though (“What makes a curve ball curve?”).  Factual questions make the best inquiry-based projects — but they must be answerable, and they must have room for exploration.
  • Interpretive — More than one possible answer, but they must be supported with evidence. (“Why did Ahab chase Moby Dick?)  Answers aren’t wrong unless they have no relationship to the text at all.  Interpretive questions that build on each other are important for any type of text (video, fiction, non-fiction, a painting, poetry, etc).   They’re especially good for stimulating a look back at the text.  Such questions are excellent for discussions and as prompts for oral and written language exercises.  They lead to good inquiry-based learning projects.
  • Evaluative — Have no right or wrong answers, since they ask for some kind of opinion, belief or point of view.  Since answers depend on prior knowledge and experience, they are good ways to lead discussions (“What  woud be a good place to take kids for a field trip?”) or explore books or other artistic works (“Do you agree with Ahab’s views on whales?”)  Note:  they rarely make good inquiry-based projects since they are internally focused.  But they can be a great way to connect with and elicit interaction from young or shy students (“Who’s your favorite Pokemon?”)

The Structure of Questions

In general, say the folks at YouthLearn, start a question with the WH questions: who, what, when, where, why

Be honest: how many times do you begin a question with “Tell me…” or “Describe for me…”?

When you frame a question that way, you take control of the learning process because you’re giving a command as well as asking for input.

When you ask a question, the most important thing is generating a true and honest curiosity about the answer.  So open-ended questions are best unless you have a particular reason for leading someone to a specific conclusion  — or need a fact supplied to you.

Try to avoid yes-no questions.  They’re usually a dead-end. 

Open-ended questions…

  • invite opinions, thoughts and feelings
  • encourage participation
  • establish rapport
  • stimulate discussion
  • maintain balance between facilitator and participant

 Try playing “The Question Game”

To begin, two participants decide on a topic to question.  One person starts with an open-ended question, then the other responds with a related open ended question.  This goes back and forth as long as they can continue without making a statement or repeating a previous question. 

For example, the topic might be an object in the room, a light bulb.

A:   Why is it important to have light?

B:   Where does light come from?

A:   How does light help people?

B:   Where is light used?  

A:   What would happen if there were no light?

Try asking a question and going around the room, each person asking a question based on the one before.

Leading a Discussion

Good learning programs involve everyone in planning and activities — whether it’s a discussion among your team about goals or a brainstorming session among kids planning a video project. 

Some Good Ground Rules for Leading a Discussion

  • Everyone prepared — This might mean everyone has received handouts or that the story for discussion has been read aloud.  
  • Know your purpose — Is the goal to arrive at a decision or just to brainstorm possible ideas to be followed up later?
  • Opinions must be supported by evidence — If you’re discussing a book, ask follow-up questions about why the student believes what she does.
  • Leader just asks  — Leader does not answer questions.
  • Care about each of your questions — Avoid generic questions; prepare in advance.
  • Maintain high energy level — Enthusiasm is contagious!
  • Be spontaneous sometimes — interpretive questions are an important part of all discussions.  Advance prep actually leads to better spontaneous questions.
  • Allow questions to lead to other questions — Be aware of practical and logistical issues (e.g. time limits) but never squelch enthusiasm when kids are on a roll.
  • Use techniques when possible/appropriate — For example, mapping can provide a conceptual, visual structure to the ideas you’re hearing.  Let people see you writing their thoughts and ideas on the map.

Visit the YouthLearn site:  http://www.youthlearn.org .  

Created by the Morino Institute , it is now led by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC).  YourthLearn.org  provides the assistance you need to start or strengthen both after-school and in-school programs. 

My source was The 2 Sisters Newsletter  at www.thedailycafe.com

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com   


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