As authors of the popular NSTA Press book The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations, we get a lot of questions from readers. One of the top questions we get is, “What types of questions do I need to ask and when should I ask them?” Not only is this a frequently asked question it’s also an important one to start with. Here’s what we tell science teachers: Questions serve many purposes. They help students connect concepts, think critically, and explore concepts at a deeper level. They can help teachers check for understanding and uncover student misconceptions. Questions can be used to clarify and to probe. Questions can extend students’ thinking by requiring the students to justify their answers. Most important, questions involve students in the learning and cause the students to continue thinking and making questions even after the initial discussion ends.
Teachers can ask several types of questions. Two main question types are convergent and divergent. To check for understanding, the teacher asks a convergent question with one specific answer. To open up and expand the discussion to many possible responses, the teacher asks a divergent question with many possible answers. The questions define the focus of the learning. A discussion with only convergent questions feels like a game show, but a discussion with only divergent questions lacks direction. Discussions become dynamic when a blend of different types of questions is thoughtfully used. When deciding the types of questions to ask, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you want to know?
- How do you want your students to get involved in the learning?
To learn more about ways to optimize questioning in your classroom, read this sample chapter from our book: Why Does Skill in Questioning Engage Students in Purposeful Standards-Based Learning? And, of course, feel free to ask us questions!
Julie V. McGough is a first-grade teacher/mentor at Valley Oak Elementary in Clovis, California; firstname.lastname@example.org.