In order to build a safe community I start the school year with getting to know activities. One of them is a partner interview which leads to writing Peer Biographies. This is a great way to get students to talk to each other and find out about their peers. We type and post all the Biographies on the wall for students to read. This generally sparks an interest in students to ask more questions and know more about their peers. Having this opportunity and learning about each other helps students feel safe in the classroom. Looking at similarities and uniqueness about each other makes them appreciate the differences and similarities. Many team building activities done at the beginning of the year help foster a safe environment for students.
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.