The Art of Questioning

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers…” (Voltaire)



Kids are born with it. It is in our genes. Somehow, for various reasons, it gets extinguished though as we go through school. And yes, it is curiosity.

So how can we keep it from vanishing out slowly? I think it is by nurturing curiosity, but also by teaching the art of questioning.

I would like to share a few ways I tried to give my students opportunities to inquire. And understand the frame of their questions. Because not all questions drive the inquiry. 

NOTE: My students are second-language learners. We are in second grade now. 🙂 What I show below is what we did last year, in first grade. 


The Open- Closed Box Analogy

Through this lesson I wanted to introduce the two types of questions:

         closed questions (those that can be answered by yes/no or by simply giving a piece of information. E.g. “When was Einstein born?”)

         open questions (questions that need research, reflection, understanding at a deeper level, sometimes rethinking opinions and perspectives. E.g. “Why are there conflicts in the world?”)

Step 1:

I simply brought a box and had it closed. Kids had no clue whatsoever what it contained. So they asked me, “What’s inside it?” and I invited them to guess. Below are their answers: 

I showed them what I had: glue sticks, paper, scissors, a book etc.

Step 2:

I asked them the next question, “Which item do you think is most important?” Not only did they have to think more, but they had to bring arguments for their choices (see below).

I invited the students to compare the two types of answers. They observed that in the second case the answers were longer and they had to THINK in order to give them.

Thus we concluded that OPEN (“fat”) questions help us more in our learning because we need to read, research or think much more to answer them.

Step 3: I encouraged students to practice classifying the questions. I gave them paper strips with many questions written on them and together we figured out in which category we should place them (“skinny” or “fat”). Examples: What is the most endangered animal today ? (skinny) How do we know what a fact /opinion is? (fat)

Step 4. Last thing I did was to get students thinking! This time they had to come up with their own fat and skinny questions. And, boy, I could hardly stop them! “Why do volcanoes erupt?”, “Why do seasons change?”, “When was the iPad invented?” etc.

P4300009P4300008 did this help us? We could since then (last year, first grade) inquire better. And ask smarter questions relatd to our units of inquiry.

The Wonder Wall in the classroom helps us rethink our questions as we learn more and more. We also use questioning techniques in our reading sessions as we have a Thinking Board in the classroom. 


I also adapted a PPT – The Power of Our Questions – created by Angela Maiers, an exceptional educator whom I have been following on Twitter for the past two years. I shared the presentation with the kids, stopping after some slides to ask them questions and connect what they saw/read with own knowledge and experience.

In another session we brainstormed answers to the question, “What does it take to be a THINKER?”. See kids’ answers (first grade) below. I displayed them on the wall so we can remember that when we feel like giving up. 


I used quotes, too. 

We made concept maps

We self-evaluated

From time to time I change the mini posters I create near the Thinking Board. Below are some of them. I added the Download feature in case you would like to use them. 

I know this was a long and overcrowded post but I always try to give evidence instead of lecturing. And I also found that I like better the blogs that have photos of practice or samples of student work.

Would you share how you nurture curiosity and an inquiring attitude in your classroom? I am always willing to learn more, reflect more on my own practices and share. 

Thank you for reading!

*Photo credits: Marco Belluci, Flickr

*Music: Kevin MacLeod ,

  1. Wow, great post!Thanks for your description of the engagements. Loved the tuning-in one at the beginning, very simple. I’ll be hijacking that if you don’t mind!I’m glad you commented on pics and evidence in blog posts. It made me realise that I too appreciate them. Mental note to do so in my own from now on.Do you think there is a time and a place for closed questions in teaching too? I sometimes think they are often undervalued because open-questions are highlighted so much in current teaching approaches and practice.

  2. Wonderful reminder of our greatest resource: our children. The metaphors in their words, like the most important item is "the fluid corrector because it erases our mistakes." This combination of questions, technology, & most most most important, the love of a teacher makes the fluid corrector that allows us to go further in our journey together.

  3. This is a great post! I love the idea of a "wonder wall." Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Tom, I never underestimate the closed questions – actually, I had a similar discussion on PYP Threads and contradicted someone there. I value them for two reasons:- kids LOVE finding out stuff (I DO, too, as an adult! I like knowing WHERE an artist lived, WHEN he published his first art piece and so on – allof which are "closed"questions)- closed questions HELP building the higher-thinking ones; you cannot ask "HOW poverty affects the global community?" without knowing basic facts at first. In my opinion, both types are necessary but at different levels of thinking and in different stages of inquiry. They do look like Bloom’s taxonomy- if you reflect on that, don’t you think? In conclusion, there is a dynamic symbiosis between these questions and each type has its importance in the thinking process. Thank you for the comment! 🙂

  5. Thank you for the kind comment, Joseph…And yes, KIDS make it all worthwhile, don’t they ?:)

  6. I am glad you like the Wonder Wall idea. Feel free to use it! Thank you for the comment, Alee

  7. Thank you for sharing your ideas. I will be sharing this with teachers at our PYP in Mobile, AL. Very useful and inspirational!

  8. Another brilliant post, as you say, high on practice, low on pontificating. One way I nurture curiosity among children is to almost bombard them with these open-ended questions, giving them short opportunities to talk to their talk-partners. It’s very good question you ask, about establishing a culture of curiosity.

  9. I am always happy to share, Suzie! And I am glad that someone finds the ideas useful and applicable in their classrooms.Thank you for dropping by!

  10. Thank you, David.I am certain you established this culture of curiosity (love the phrase!) in your classroom – the very approach of language you use (language garden) is an invitation to exploration and thinking. 🙂

  11. Appreciate your focus on questioning. I’ve always observed and engaged in the most learning when there’s a great deal of a variety of questions being asked and answered. Thanks for sharing out the resources.

  12. Thank you for the comment, Tom.

  13. Congratulations for your blog!!

  14. Thank you!

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