The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations

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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, “How do we hold the learners accountable with questions?” Here is what we tell readers:  The questions we choose chart the course of the discussion. Questions serve many purposes.  Questions help students connect concepts, think critically, and explore logic and understanding at a deeper level.  Questions can help teachers check for understanding. Questions can extend students’ thinking by requiring the students to justify their answers. 

One emphasis of the Common Core English/Language Arts standards includes “asking and answering questions to demonstrate understanding” and “engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions.” Teachers may engage students in this type of discussion by asking justifying questions that hold the learner accountable for their learning.  This type of question requires the student to provide evidence and support their ideas.

For example the teacher may ask the student, “Why do you think that?” or “What evidence supports your idea?”  The way the teacher asks the question is very important.  If the teacher asks questions with an inquisitive tone of wonder, the student will see that the teacher really wants to know what they are thinking and really wants to understand their logic and evidence.  If the teacher asks the question with a sharp or critical tone, the question seems more like an interrogation.  When teachers ask justifying questions with a constructive, inquisitive tone and intent a dynamic discussion is launched.

To learn more about ways to optimize questioning in your classroom, check out:

The Power of Questioning:  Guiding Student Investigations

Julie V. McGough is a first-grade teacher/mentor at Valley Oak Elementary in Clovis, California;  mrmagoojulie2@att.net.

Lisa M. Nyberg is a professor at California State University in Fresno, California; lnyberg@csufresno.edu; @docny

Click here for part one of The Power of Questioning blog series. 


The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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2 Responses to The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations

  1. Melissa Novak says:

    In schools everywhere including where I teach, there is a focus on utilizing higher level questioning techniques. Our school leadership provided us with a chart containing key words for higher level questions. Across the top the table reads “Is, Did, Can, Would, Will and Might.” Along the left side are the words “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How”. The idea behind the chart is further to the right and down you move on the chart the higher level the questions become. According to the chart the highest level question would begin with “How Might…” While I feel confident in knowing which questions to ask I am intrigued by your statement that “the way the teacher asks the question is very important.” Can you provide some tricks as to how I can best ask these higher level questions? Thank you.

  2. onecoinprime says:

    Very good. thanks information.

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