Mar 12, 2014

When you teach kids to ask questions, what if they ask silly ones?

When you teach kids to ask questions, what if they ask silly ones?

Blogger Jay Corrigan writes in... 

Posed by Dan Rothstein Co-Director, The Right Question Institute Top Contributor, through

Questions? Question Formulation and Classroom Management
This blog is part two in a four part blog series from an educator in the field, Jay Corrigan. Over the next few weeks, Jay will share how his school community has integrated the Question Formulation Technique into their classroom practice. Read part 1 here where Jay described a scaffolded approach that starts in kindergarten and extends to third grade and beyond.

Primary QFT: Maintaining Student Focus on the Qfocus

I have a job where I deliver professional development and support to all teachers, K-12.  One thing I have learned in this position is that a key instructional challenge in high school is generating energy and interest.  I work with a high school government teacher who frequently talks about the challenge of getting her first period students to wake up!  The challenge at the elementary level, the primary level in particular, is more focused on harnessing and focusing the energy that already exists in the classroom.  This energy is part of what makes the Question Formulation Technique so exciting to use with very young children.  It also means that the management of this activity can be tricky, unless you know what to do!

Hold the Line on Relevance
I was in a first and second grade classroom observing teachers using the QFT with their students.  The difference in their approach, and the response of their students, illustrates something important about how to manage student behavior while they are generating questions.
In the second grade classroom, the teacher presented the class with a QFocus and the first student who volunteered asked a question whose purpose was to be silly.  The teacher, believing that she needed to accept anything that was offered, wrote the silly question on the board.  This class quickly degenerated into kids trying to one-up each other by asking progressively more silly and ridiculous questions.

 The Meal Worm QFocus

In the first grade classroom, the teacher presented the class with a QFocus that was a picture of mealworms.  The first student who volunteered asked, “Are they gross?”  General giggles all around.  The teacher responded by saying, “Maybe, maybe not.  But our job now is to ask questions that will help us to learn about this animal.  Will that question help us to learn something important about this picture?”  General agreement that the answer was no.  What followed was a series of complex and interesting questions, all relevant to the picture and all indicative of curiosity that these kids had about an organism they were not familiar with.

The lesson is this: There is a difference between judging and evaluating questions and holding students accountable for asking questions that are relevant. The second grade teacher did not hold her students accountable for asking relevant questions and she ended up with a list of questions that told you more about the second grade sense of humor than student curiosity about her QFocus.  The first grade teacher did hold her students accountable for asking relevant questions and it made all the difference.


C.O.D. ~Connector of Dots

I would probably giggle along with them.

mathematics department chair at Powhatan school

Since I am a big advocate of teaching the skill of question asking, this can be tricky. But like lots of things we teach kids to set limits, and teach them when they push too far. 

Biologist/Botanist/Writer/Consultant/Founding Editor at Science Literacy & Education focused

Who decides if the question is silly? Treat the question like brainstorming. Perhaps the silly question will relax the group, spawn more serious questions, or perhaps it is not silly for the person asking it, though it may be for others.

Here is an example: In a biology class for pre-med, nursing and allied medical students a student asked what toilet paper was for. Other students started to laugh and thought it was a silly question. I suggested they stop laughing and I answered the question matter of factly. The student was from a culture that did not use toilet paper. The student truly did not know and needed to learn, so, asked a question. The question came up when students were discussing how hygiene helps in decreasing infection levels and how they could convey healthy practices to the people they worked with in clinical situations. 

Lecturer at Yogyakarta State University

Adults (teachers) expectations of the younger (students) is the immanently biggest problem in education. Teacher's expectation followed by his/her subjective justification about his/her students are always worsen them psychologically. 

Founder & Director of Machuan Education

There's no silly question, only silly answers. 


If you have full command in your subject then you can handle every situation held in your class rather than silly or not 

Lecturer at Yogyakarta State University

@Jun Zhao: No silly utterances (Q and A) belong to youngsters; rather, they are mostly belong to adults (teachers) 

Director at Zeal Educational Services Pvt Ltd

I would distinguish between two kinds of "silly" questions: those that are asked for a genuine reason (Shipman's example) and those that are asked for other reasons. If they are being asked for fun, I would perhaps laugh along with them and Renee; but I would take notice if the "silly" question is being asked to disrupt the class.

Sometimes, "silly" questions are really tough to answer; often, when someone asks me such a question, I have to think for hours before I get an answer! 

Teacher at Sterling Academy

Students who like to ask questions that are "off topic" and could be considered silly usually learn quickly to be more discerning if a teacher will answer the question without making a big deal about it. Sometimes students just want the spotlight and other times they really don't understand something. If a student is looking for attention, the best thing to do is seriously answer the question and move on quickly. They will usually get the idea after a few times that this behavior isn't acceptable.

We never want to make students feel bad about asking questions. This is very common when teaching students from different backgrounds and it is up to the teacher to guide the class toward better understanding of different cultures.

Sometimes we do laugh reflexively at a question, but it is important to laugh with the student, not at the student. (I was teaching in a very orthodox school years ago and the rabbi's son meant to ask about an edema, but used the word enema instead. Many of the students knew what the 2nd was and laughed. I smiled, explained the term and we went on.) 

Senior Teaching Fellow at University of Strathclyde

Kipling's Elephant's child can be used to help focus questioning:
I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
. . . .
Teach them how to ask questions, pursue enquiry and to retain enthusiasm for asking them. If this was treated as a life skill then learning STEM subjects could be more 'productive' to the system and more rewarding for the learner. It seems one of the great mysteries of formal education that spontaneity in asking questions progressively diminishes as children progress through the system - this ranges from the constant what, why, how of nursery/Kindergarten/Reception class to occasional grunts from reluctant teenagers who are driven to achieve grades rather than thinking and furthering their understanding of, of everything. 

Director at Advocating Creativity

I always think of a "question" as the tip of the iceberg. A lot has gone on, and sometimes overcome, for a learner (of any age) to ask a question. It is a high risk strategy in an environment that expects answers and the acquisition of knowledge as tangible proof of learning. Asking a question exposes the learner to all sorts of negative experiences from ridicule to abandonment and can seriously impact on their "learning map" (what they believe they can and can not learn). Yet I see the asking of a question as a sign of true engagement in learning, it shows a desire to learn. We need to show learners how to ask questions and we need to model this as teachers. Ellen Langer talks of "mindful learning", of asking questions in a way that 'leaves the door open' and helps learners engage. I find this sometimes lacking in a knowledge based curriculum where there are right and wrong answers and therefore questions that acknowledge only right answers and not 'explorative thinking' which is often high risk to the learner.

If we adopt what I call a "learning focused" curriculum instead of the "knowledge based" type frequently found in schools then asking questions is at the heart of the process, it is the engine that drives learning. In such a model we would see more open ended learning opportunities where asking questions is essential in guiding the learning. I wrote an article in my series on "Learning Intelligence" or LQ which explores the link with learning and creativity, a process full of questions. The link is:

Perhaps the only silly question is the one that is not asked!


  1. Siska Nur Rahmawati
    PEP-B 2016

    Keingintahuan siswa dinilai dari seberapa jauh siswa mengembangkan kemampuan berpikirnya untuk menanggapi sebuah informasi. Di dalam pembelajaran, guru seharusnya mampu mengembangkan kemampuan bertanya siswa untuk mengasah kemampuan berpikir dan meningkatkan rasa keingintahuan siswa. Menurut pengalaman saya ketika belajar bersama siswa di SD Eksperimental Mangunan, siswa diminta setiap hari untuk membuat pertanyaan tentang apapun yang ingin mereka tanyakan. Hal ini dapat membantu siswa untuk mengasah kreativitas mereka dengan bertanya.

  2. Pembelajaran yang menarik menurut persepsi siswa dapat diperoleh ketika memulai pelajaran atau bahkan keseluruhan selama pembelajaran yang menarik. Disinalah peran guru yang bisa menjadikan situasi selalu menyenangkan.
    Salah satu yang dilakukan agar siswa ikut berfikir terhadap apa yang akan dipelajari adalah dengan mengawali dengan pertanyaan. Yang menjadi masalah bagimanakah pertanyaan untuk anak yang seharusnya, tentu saja perspektif pemikiran sang guru harus terlebih dulu memahami karakter anak tersebut sesuai dengan perkembangan psikisnya. Jika salah dalam memberikan pertanyaan mungkin siswa akhirnya akan menjadi ketakukan akan materi yang akan di sampaikan.

    PEP B S2


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