Improving Questions, Part 2

Before starting this post, please go back and look at Part 1 to get the research justification for the outline below.

In an effort to make research more accessible and visible in the implementation of new ideas, here is a practical, “how-to” explanation of ways to get students to ask better questions.

While all of this can be done with paper and pencil in class, expanding the process to the web brings benefits. Students (and the teacher) can interact when and where they want. If you’re using an open community, you can also get feedback from outside sources. There is also a running record of the interactions asked and answered by each member of the community, which can be used for analysis, assessment, or just judging the health of the community.

Dan Meyer advocates questioning habits through making it a habit to ask. His keynote at CUE gives an example of how he practices asking good questions. (Please watch just a minute or two of the video. It is well worth the time.) This brings us to thing-to-try-number-one:

Have your students keep a list of questions. Not just content questions. Just questions.

Think of this as brain training. There is evidence showing that students who undergo training in asking questions score higher on information-based assessments than groups who do not receive training (Weiner 1978). Now, before you accuse me of reaching too far, the study also notes that they did not study the efficacy of a particular type of training. So, if we take Dan’s example and begin tracking perplexity, we are training our brains to pay attention to our surroundings, which could translate to the classroom. (As a closing side note, Dan also runs a website called 101 Questions which is a fun way to get kids thinking. You can also use it to upload content to get some feedback before using it with students.)

Thinking back to part 1, I gave a brief outline of a method called the “question formulation strategy. So, thing-to-try-number-two:

Try using the QFS rather than a more common tool like the KWL.

I know both strategies essentially do the same thing – get students to reflect on their learning as it happens. I like QFS better because the metacognitive processes the students engage in are open ended and content agnostic. The students are free to ask questions on anything they want, which gives then an open route to make connections on their own. The KWL also has a “finality” to it…once the student learns what they want to know (the “W” column), there is little invitation to continue exploring. QFS, on the other hand, encourages further questioning at every stage.

Finally, thing-to-try-number-three:

Use an online Q&A platform for peer feedback on questionins.

Remember, there is evidence showing that questions alone aren’t enough. We need feedback. I mentiond earlier that StackExchange is a great platform for both asking and answering questions, but the added layer of voting and commenting serves as the quality control. Unfortunately, getting the platform for student use is more complicated.

StackExchange is a private company – the platform is not open source. I did some searching and there are some open-source alternatives which can be used, but they’re not insignificant to get set up.

The way I see it, there is a large community of educators with the know-how and the interest in getting something like I’ve described set up. I’m even willing to throw in my small-beans experience in helping to set up and maintain a site. If there is interest in experimenting with this idea (I’m not in the classroom, or I’d try it myself), leave a comment and we’ll see what we can do.


Weiner, C. J. (1978). The Effect of Training in Questioning and Student Question Generation on Reading Achievement.

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