Questioning to Support Student Inquiry

By Eve Pranis

Watching a seedling unfurl, witnessing the response of a neglected plant, trying to influence the direction a plant grows -- such experiences can spark students' questions and curiosity, laying the groundwork for active exploration and discovery. A teacher's role in fanning that spark and guiding student inquiry is essential.

The types of questions and responses a teacher offers support student inquiry by enabling students' thoughts, ideas, and questions to emerge, and opening up possibilities for active investigations. They can lead students to observe, explore, explain, and support and evaluate ideas, and can provide a model to help students shape their own questions. Questions that inhibit student inquiry are those that close down or prematurely close off these explorations and ideas.

A Boston teacher attending a GrowLab workshop described her experience when she tried to shift her questions and responses to be more open-ended and supportive of student inquiry, by asking for instance, What did you observe that lead you to say that? rather than responding with That's not right. Who else knows? "My whole relationship with my students shifted," she reported. "I learned so much more about them and their thinking."

Activities in GrowLab: Activities for Growing Minds are organized with a four-part teaching cycle designed as a basic framework (not a blueprint) for organizing experiences to help students develop skills and an understanding of concepts. Using the GrowLab teaching cycle as a guide, consider the types of questions one might ask at different phases to keep students' curiosity and thinking thriving.

Laying the Groundwork.
When beginning an investigation, consider how you engage students' interest in a concept and find out what they already know. How might you invite them to share what they know and what experiences they've had?

Enabling Questions: Can you tell me about or describe? What do you see? Have you ever...? How is it like what you've seen before? What does it remind you of? How could you find out?

Connsider how you support students as they take a closer look and set up active investigations to explore their own questions.

Enabling Questions: What's happening? What does it look/feel like? What did you notice? How is it the same/different? What do you think would happen if...? How can we find out? How will you know? What will you look for? Have you tried...? Can you think of another way? What do you predict? What happened when you tried? How did they compare?

Branching Out.
Investigations will likely spark new questions and action, and can be extended to other contexts and disciplines.

Enabling Questions: What could you do next? How can you use what you've learned? What other questions do you have? How can this help you...?

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