How Do We Ask Why? Our Top Tools To Ask Insightful Questions

Our last blog was all about how we can answer questions brilliantly. That is important to master, but it is equally key to formulate and ask questions. Not only a useful skill for a detective or in interviews, it is at the heart of all learning. By digging deeper we develop our own understanding and broaden our knowledge. 

For the apprentice, asking questions can be scary. Perhaps when you were at school those who asked questions were considered ignorant! It might be seen as an admission of not knowing something or understanding what is being discussed. For the meta-learner to flourish, we need to create environments where questions are encouraged. We want them to feel it is safe to ask, regardless of how seemingly silly the question might be to other people.

Learning doesn’t stop when we leave school. Often, we only remember, what some might deem, useless facts: the date Frodo shows up in Rivendell or the chronological list of the Alex Rider novels. Not useless, you cry! Potentially helpful for your next quiz night however to really grow and develop our thinking, do not stop at the fact level. We need to deepen our understanding of the world around us, by constantly questioning and modelling this to children. First question: how do we go about doing this? Thankfully, there are so many useful strategies to help improve our questioning skills. 

Simple questions

When forming a question, often it can be very simple. A great starter question is: Are you sure? There is great power in those three words. Children have to think about what they have done and check their own work, even if you know they are correct. Get them to stand-up for their answers and reason or explain their workings. On those occasions, when it is wrong, they will be able to work out why. Children can take ownership of their learning and ask this question of themselves. 

Another great question is: How do you know? Again, we are modelling self-reflection. Children can start asking themselves to understand their thinking and analyse where they found the information. 

Thinking Frames and the reflective lens 

At Meta Prep, we use Thinking Matters’ Thinking Frames to develop learning. These Metacognitive visual tools organise, clarify and deepen learning. Putting down ideas in a visual way allows your brain space to work through more information and reflect on what has been discussed. Space is created in the working memory to make links and ask further questions. They are framed by a reflective lens (all about reflection!) to remind meta-learners to ask questions about the information written within the frame. Perhaps, where the information came from and how do we know? Maybe it might encourage them to find out more about the individual parts of the information. 

Bloom’s revised taxonomy

Thinking levels 

Anderson’s Thinking Levels, adapted from Bloom’s Thinking Levels, are six levels of thinking when learning and developing new ideas and knowledge. These levels are incredibly useful in developing questions for all ages. The first two levels: Remembering and Understanding encourage us to ‘gather data’. Next up is Applying and Analysing which are fundamental skills to learning and encourage us to use and process that data. At the top is Evaluating and Creating which encourage us to do something with all of that information. We have to go deeper and use our ability to make connections or judgements.

Identifying synonyms and thinking verbs for each level can help us design excellent questions. For instance, at the Creating level: invent, design, compose, add, and construct. The verbs help us form higher-level questions: How could we design a phone that is more accessible for people? Could we add more descriptive language to our creative writing piece? Using the verbs for each level helps us develop thousands of questions, thus allowing us to reflect on the data and information we have gathered.. 

‘Q’ is for ‘question’

Q Matrix 

The Q Matrix developed by Chuck Wiederhold and Spencer Kagan combines question starters (e.g. who, what, where) with verbs (e.g. did, will, might) to develop questioning skills. ‘Q’ stands for ‘question’ and we love using it at Meta Prep to stimulate conversation and questioning skills for pupils and teachers alike. For example, a simple question might be: What is a banana? By moving to the bottom right you are prompted to create a more complex question: How might we use bananas to power a village? The beautiful thing about the Q Matrix is that it is easy to use and can be applied to all thinking for any age group. It prompts one to come up with a range of questions to encourage and support deeper questioning. Thus we have reached our goal for deeper and more critical thinking.

Interview questions 

11+ & 13+ entry to independent schools involves interviews at each of the schools to which they have applied. The interviews are an opportunity to identify childrens’ attitudes, mindset, cognitive ability and interpersonal skills. However, what is often forgotten is this is a chance for children to ask questions about the school. This demonstrates interest in the school and what it has to offer. It also helps the child work out whether the school is a good fit for them.

Children need to come prepared. They should research the school and come up with a list of questions they would like to pose. Some good questions could be about time spent doing homework or what other activities are part of the school year. Maybe even asking how the school allows them to develop confidence or problem solving skills or support when they might need it. They might seem challenging for children to formulate these types of questions, but this skill is vital for adulthood. When they look for a job, a flatmate, a volunteering position or a travel opportunity they need to know and understand every aspect to make good decisions.

Encouraging good questions 

As teachers and parents, we need to be encouraging children and each other to ask good questions. This is a skill that needs to be modelled, practised and refined. It will be a constant learning curve throughout our lives and can increase our metacognitive abilities and learning in all areas.

Want to help your child become an expert learner?

At Meta Prep, we love teaching children to develop good questions that deepen learning. Our Year 4 Metacognitive and Reasoning courses teach children how to use these visual tools and help them to learn to question the information they encounter. Sign up today for our courses or register for more information.