How to ask ‘Good’ questions

Blog: Sara Castledine, Director of Primary

How to ask ‘Good’ questions

Posted: 18/06/14

You might have heard someone say ‘ooh, that’s a good question’ when they are unable to give an instant, straight-forward response. These questions are not necessarily intellectually challenging, but they at least require more thought than simply accessing a known fact from somewhere deep inside ones memory.

These are the questions that appeal to real thinkers; those who want to enquire and analyse, draft and re-draft, think and ask. In mathematics, there is a misconception that there is ‘only one answer’ to a problem. Yes or no, 1 or 2, right or wrong. This can often put off the intellectually curious, analytic and thoughtful.

In order to nurture real thinkers in all aspects of life, we need to be conscious of the questions we are posing. Are the questions we pose ‘good’ and open to thinking? In classrooms, we have identified three types of questions frequently asked. Which one(s) rely on deeper thinking, thus being a ‘good’ question?

  1. Closed questions – These tend to offer only one possible answer. For example, what is 8 + 5?
  2. Open questions – There is more than one possible answer. For example, tell me two numbers with a difference of 3?
  3. Clean questions – These require clarification of the respondents’ thoughts. For example, can you subtract 5 from 8? Explain your answer.

All of these can be considered a ‘good’ question! Closed questions can be turned into open questions by asking, ‘Does 8 + 5 = 10 + 3?’ which requires students consider their thinking. Open questions and clean questions by their nature, lead to theories, analysis and students displaying their depth of understanding.

By giving opportunities for contemplation, forming hypothesis and analysing problems, you engage many more parts of the brain than straightforward responses. To develop real thinkers, we need to weigh greater emphasis on open and clean questions, both inside and outside the classroom.

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