Teach Children to Ask Their Own Questions

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

Photo of D Brugger

Written by

“The best creative solutions don’t come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented. They come from inventing new questions.” ~Seth Godin. Question the question.

The classic model of teaching is leading students by asking questions. It’s often called The Socratic Method, after the ancient Greek philosopher, but it’s a staple of the modern classrooms from elementary school up to college. The most famous Hollywood version of it may be from the film and TV show, The Paper Chase, set at Harvard Law School.

Educators Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana want to turn the standard model on its head. They’ve founded the “Right Question Institute,” based on the idea that it’s much more effective to teach students to formulate and ask their own questions. It’s critical not just for the classroom, but for students’ lives.

Additional Resources:

Live: Questions in progress!

Character Lab - Teacher Innovation Grant Winner - Curious & Curiouser! So many questions!

New Interactive Learning Technology

Discovery Education's Social Studies Techbook - How Can We Make the 63,000 Questions We Ask in a Year Better?


A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas - by Warren Berger
Beyond Rhetorical Questions: Assertive questions in everyday interaction, by Irene Koshik
Why Do You Ask?: The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse, by Alice Freed (Editor), Susan Ehrlich (Editor)

Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators –by Jeff Dyer (Author), Hal Gregersen (Author), Clayton M. Christensen

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work (Inquiry Institute Library) by Marilee Adams               


4-24 Project - a community dedicated to rekindling the provocative power to ask the right questions in adults so they can pass this crucial skill onto the next generation.

Inquiry Institute - Great results begin with great questions

Use Catalytic Questioning to Solve Significant Problems - by Hal Gregersen July 19, 2013

Creative Questioning:The art of asking dumb questions, Leadership Development at The Banff Centre

Visible Thinking: A routine for generating and transforming questions

How to design a classroom built on inquiry openness and trust - By Shelley Wright September 8, 2015

The power of question formulation - Educational Leadership -October 2014 | Volume 72 | Number 2  Instruction That Sticks

Do You have the Personality To Be an Inquiry-Based Teacher? By MindShift November 21, 2013

What's going on in this picture? - Every Monday the New York Times publishes a single image without a caption and asks students what they think is going on in the picture. From 9am-2pm Eastern that day students who register on the site are also invited to post what they think they see, explain why and ask questions through a moderated forum. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, it's all there.

Asking Questions more open-ended-ly and creatively

5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners

Encouraging student questioning

How can we teach kids to question?


Randall Munroe: Comics that ask "what if?" - Randall Munroe, Cartoonist, Filmed Mar 2014

Educators Want Students To Ask The Questions 

3 Rules to spark learning - Ramsey Musallam

Ask better questions | Joe Burgum | TEDxFargo

How to ask the right Questions - Hal Gregersen - Gregersen is the creator of Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies list and founder of the 4-24 project, which is dedicated to rekindling in adults the provocative power of asking the right questions to ultimately cultivate the next generation of innovative leaders.

Evaluation results

13 evaluations so far

1. Potential for Impact: Imagine this solution had near perfect implementation. To what extent would this solution bring about a culture of innovation within a school or classroom?

A lot! This solution would greatly bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 53.8%

Somewhat. This solution would somewhat bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 38.5%

Not much. This solution might help with other things, but I don't see it really bringing about a culture of innovation within schools or classrooms. - 7.7%

2. Feasibility and Fit: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: If this solution were available to me right now, I would be able to use it with relatively low investment. (i.e. money, time, or skills).

Strongly agree (this solution strongly aligns to my/my school's current capacities). - 46.2%

Agree. - 46.2%

Neutral. - 0%

Disagree. - 7.7%

Strongly disagree (this solution would take a big lift in resources to pull off). - 0%

3. Adaptability: I could imagine this solution working well in a variety of school and classroom contexts across a diverse set of needs.

Absolutely! I could see this working for a variety of schools and classrooms with different or unique needs. - 61.5%

Somewhat. I could see this working for many schools and classrooms, but it might need some adjusting to fit a broad diversity of contexts. - 38.5%

Not a lot. This seems like it might be better suited to only a few contexts. - 0%

4. Scalability: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: This idea could be adopted by an ever-growing number of teachers or students without requiring significant changes.

Strongly agree (this solution could easily scale without any significant changes). - 46.2%

Agree. - 38.5%

Neutral. - 7.7%

Disagree. - 7.7%

Strongly disagree (this solution would require significant changes in order to properly scale). - 0%

5. Desirability: Do you wish this solution were available to you right now?

1 - Not a lot. There's not a big need for this right now and/or we use something already that fulfills a similar purpose in my school or classroom. - 0%

2 - 7.7%

3 - 23.1%

4 - 38.5%

5 - A lot! There's nothing like this already and I'd love to have it in my school or classroom. - 30.8%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jane Bain

Wow! What a great collection of resources, approaches and ideas. Thanks everyone.
I am wondering what routines and rituals can he teachers to shift their vision of teaching away from leading students to THE answer and toward fostering interests and passions and valuing student thinking and student generated questions. Our current routines and rituals still support teacher as the centre of knowledge-what key everyday, small changes in behavior will start to move us toward a new centre for our classrooms. I think you have hit on a huge one -ask more high level questions, a second might be to talk less-whoever is doing the talking is doing the most thinking.

Photo of D Brugger


Photo of D Brugger

“The best creative solutions don’t come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented. They come from inventing new questions.” ~Seth Godin. Question the question.

Photo of Garth Nichols

I'm in the process of shiftin our teaching culture towards this inquiry-based approach. Love the resources. Also, check out: http://tc2.ca/ as well as http://historicalthinking.ca/historical-thinking-concepts

These both are great resources to help support teachers in this shift

Photo of D Brugger

Awesome resources. Thanks Garth!

Photo of Mangla Oza

I usually start by putting up a picture or photograph and ask students to look at it carefully. Then I ask them to think of any questions they might have about the picture. Anything they want to ask or any thought they have they should write it down. After a few minutes if students are not able to get started I model a question about the picture. Something like " I wonder where this photo was taken? " Or WHY IS ----?
When I get them started they are able to come up with many questions. I tell them that no question is dumb.
After we have a list of questions students put them on sticky notes and share with the class. We then talk about questions which can be answered by looking at the picture and questions that cannot be answered. How do we find out the answers to those questions that cannot be answered. Discussions around good questions that lead to Inquiry are important. We then sort questions and begin an inquiry. They way we create a safe structure and starting point for all students. The more we practice the better students get at questioning.
This then helps me set up Science inquiry and talk about testable and non-testable questions. In Literature we talk about Discussion questions leading to Inferring vs comprehension questions. I model several questioning techniques. Using the Socratic method I answer students' questions with more questions. I also teach them to change statements into questions.

Photo of chris fancher

I"m just getting caught up on this thread. You do a great job of telling us ways you have incorporated questioning. Thank you. When I think of the challenge as a whole, I see that we can do these same things with the rest of the faculty and we need just a few who adopt it in their classes so that our students see these questioning strategies being used outside of our classrooms. Again, nice post.

Photo of Frank LaBanca

Effective questioning is at the heart of good inquiry based learning. As a Principal leading an inquiry school, I have been working carefully with teachers to develop their capacity to ask good questions. Part of our evolving success is our ability to evaluate and classify the questions we are asking. I often start with teachers by simply counting the types of questions that are asked and I use a 4-category classifcation scheme: Knowledge/comprehension (lower order) asked by teacher; Higher order asked by teacher; Knowledge/comprehension (lower order) asked by student; Higher order asked by student. (We also developed an iOS app to collect the data: Classroom Questioning Recorder). In general, the data shows about 80% of questions asked by teachers and 30% of those are HOTS - The trick is to get kids asking more questions. When we purposefully examine practice and have a way to measure it, we can start that transition. In terms of scaffolding good question asking, I tend to point teachers towards the Bloom's taxonomy framework and use graphic organizers that have different starters/terminology for those types questions. (This has also successfully been shared with students). One thing we know, is that when teachers PLAN for effective questioning, they generally ask more meaningful questions. Also, listening for talk is a good indicator - if responses to questions are short phrases or single words, these are generally lower order. While if question responses include elaboration, evidence, details... they are more likely to be HOTS. I encourage teachers to purposefully plan several questions over the course of a lesson that are HOTS. When student dialogue includes them - we are certainly empowering the inquiry mind. From an inquiry perspective, when students are brainstorming questions, they can also be classified into investigable and univestigable. Univestigables are important because there still is ideation occurring. Uninvestigables that are interesting can also be refined. My conclusion: good coaching, good planning: better question development by kids.

Photo of Julia Goga-Cooke

D, thanks for Dan's interview, great thoughts and practice. While there is no doubt amongst us that teaching students questioning skills is a very important task, I would like to suggest that in the next 6 days left, we take our challenge to the next stage of evolvement: How? Echoing both Betty's and James's questions:
How might we build questioning into the culture of the school? What rituals and routines can we come up with?
Shall we brainstorm this?

Photo of D Brugger

The Right Question Institute has laid out a simple process in which a teacher can oversee exercises designed to encourage students to form lots of questions. The process is designed to be simple enough that teachers can learn it in an hour, and students can grasp it immediately. It's not the only method or technique but is a great starting place for anyone.

I suggest we use the process in RQI's website below or improve upon it by combining it with Garth Nichols idea's of a lab. The lab would provide the optimal environment for these processes and techniques.


Also review the additional ideas/links added to the "Update" above, including
- 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners
- Encouraging student questioning
- How can we teach kids to question?


Photo of James

As a middle school teacher, one of my favourite things to see over the course of the year is the progression in the quality of questions students pose. Whether it's in literature circle/book clubs or social studies discussions, you can often hear the cognitive development happening as the questions become more interesting and complex.

Building questioning into the culture of the school would be a great way to ramp that up.

Photo of Garth Nichols

Hi Dan,
thanks for this - it is right up my alley with a school-wide initiative to shift our practice to inquiry-based pedagogy. We are using this book to help our teachers understand, apply and reflect on the process: http://www.oupcanada.com/catalog/9780199009343.html

Photo of D Brugger

Have you seen the book "The imaginary world of ___________ " by Keri Smith, or any of her other works? This book, her perspectives or her other books might serve as a source of inspiration for the thought books that you mentioned.

Photo of Julia Goga-Cooke

Dear Mangla, that is a great way of combining observation skills with questioning skills, where the pictures or photographs trigger the inquiry.
Going back to the core of our challenge about creating rituals and routines, and building on your idea, I'd like to expand it to develop the enquiry on things they observe on the way to and from school, in their neighbourhood, in the playground, on holiday. On Monday morning they bring a question, write it in a post it note and stick it in the Ask Mondays Wall ( a space in the school hall, corridor, library). During the week students are encouraged to collaborate to find answers. Creating an awarding system, and class competition on both questions and answers might add to the buzz and involvement.

Photo of Old Friend

I am wondering if you have thoughts on how to lead students through this process. Do we model it? Do we share with them different ways people might come up with questions, how to write a question that will be useful to pursue, what to do once they have a question in mind.

Photo of D Brugger


Do you have the personality to be an inquiry based teacher?

Photo of Old Friend

This is a wonderful idea. Thank you for including me. I report to work in 3 or 4 hours and the kids return Monday, so this catches me just in time to start thinking about how to incorporate this concept from the beginning. I feel a bit less sure of how I am going to do things this school year than I have in quite a while, but shaking things up a bit is probably a good thing.

Photo of D Brugger

Ask better questions | Joe Burgum | TEDxFargo

Photo of D Brugger

How to Ask the Right Question, Hal Gregersen is the co-author of “The Innovator’s DNA”

Photo of Becky Leff

It's so true, as Warren Berger writes, that children's questions fall off as they go through school. I find that my 4th graders are focused on getting approval from their teacher, or taking an easy as possible route to being done, sadly. A helpful step might be using QAR question types (http://education.ky.gov/curriculum/lit/documents/rf_ls_8_handouts.pdf). "Right There" questions can be answered directly from the text ("What is the main character's name?"). The answers to "Think and Search" questions are in the text, but you need to put information together from different parts (What is the main idea of Chapter 1?"). "Author and Me" questions can't be answered directly out of the text; you need to infer the answer from what the author has written. And, "On you own" questions are answered from the reader's own experience and ideas. Teaching children how to answer different types of questions is difficult - teaching them to ASK probing questions is even more so.

Photo of Niranjan Vasireddy

Simple yet powerful idea. So How might we get teachers to allow kids to keep asking questions, without them feeling to know it all? How might we teach kids that asking questions is not bad?
By telling the truth -

I personally use a small practice when I interact with kids. I tell that in life one ought to always Observing, Questioning, Reasoning in order to grow. I also tell that not all adults have all the answers. They don't cause they wanted to leave back some/many things for the next generation to figure out. That it is also ok that sometimes our mom, dad, teacher, coach, uncle, aunt, grandfather, grandmother might not know the answer. And that many times when they ask us to keep quite, it is their little secret,that they do not want the children to know that they do not know the answers. However I tell children, not to stop questioning, as many a times it is the questions that lead to innovations. And that there is a creator/inventor/iron man/elsa hidden in all of us. All of us have them, but only a few get to put the power to use. So it is really up to the child to decide to find out his/her secret power. And I ask - So do you want to find your secret power or let it fade away? Almost every child says I want to find my power.

I also tell children that for any given question there are 3 correct answers - 1. know (means they have to support the answer with facts), 2. I do not know & 3. I think/I guess I know. This I saw has huge impact on children. I have seen almost every single child who raises his/her hand with an answer - now first rationalize within their mind their answer and then tell it.

Clarifying this simple but yet profound truth about questions and life, I felt freed me as a coach from pretend to know all the answers that children ask. I tell them the truth, and many times accept "I do not know." However I do point them in a direction, which I hope may give them the answer, or if possible sometimes sit with them and uncover the answer.

Photo of Becky Leff

This is a wonderful idea, I'm happy to join the team.

Photo of Julia Goga-Cooke

D, thanks for inviting me, I am in