Delaware Writing Project

Teaching Students To Ask Questions

By Alayna Ford

The door of the English classroom next to mine holds a quote by George Carlin. I had never heard of George Carlin before seeing the quote (apparently he was a comedian), and I’m not sure if I would have agreed with anything he said or believed, but this quote struck me nonetheless: “Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

In my classroom I have the desire to teach my students to question what they read. Yet, I realize my curriculum is set up to help students think of answers, but not necessarily to help them question. The handy graphic organizers that nicely fit with each short story or informational text conveniently ask all the questions. Students go on a treasure hunt for the answers and are looking directly in the text for the exact words they need to find in order to show that they “struck gold” with the answer.

To be fair, many of the questions found on these graphic organizers do help readers think and analyze. After all, most educators understand and believe in helping students reach the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. However, the reality of my classroom for the first few months of this school year and the first few years of my teaching career was this: I ask the questions; students give the answers.

In the classroom there are built in times to ask questions, and students learn quickly when it is appropriate to question. But many students do not take steps toward questioning at all, and actually need to be taught how to think in a way that creates questions. This idea of teaching students to question is somewhat lost in education today. I am too busy trying to teach them how to find and think of the answers, forgetting that good thinkers don’t just answer, they question as well. On top of that, students also need to learn that some questions do not even have complete answers. The act of questioning itself and then searching out the possibility of an answer can teach students critical thinking skills and endurance.

So what can we do as educators? Teach students the process that we as teachers go through to craft and create questions. Give students topics that they can question, and help them find ways to locate answers and create more questions from the answers they find. In English, have students annotate their texts, interacting with them by asking questions while reading. Students can write their thoughts and questions in the margins of a book, and those questions can be turned into predictions. Students who come up with a question about a character or possible theme can seek to answer their own questions while reading. Some questions may be dead ends, and some may lead them on a path to deep analysis. Either way, giving students the platform to be the question “askers” will help them to grow as thinkers and learners.

About the Author

Alayna Ford received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education from the University of Delaware in 2013 and was certified through the state of Delaware in Secondary ELA, Elementary Education, and Special Education. She is currently working to obtain her Master of Education degree in Teacher Leadership through the University of Delaware. Alayna has a passion for literacy and writing instruction, and is working as a 9th grade English teacher at Odyssey Charter High School.

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