Children Learning to ask Great Questions

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The qualities of the questions we ask children are important. From them, kids learn to ask and answer good questions or to remain silent.Conversation 3

There are Direct questions, which focus upon verifiable answers. Questions we hope even young kids can correctly answer are designed to ensure that a student / child is processing experiences productively and that expanding their thinking. Such questions are designed to ensure that the children know certain things. With these, there is likely a single adult  guiding the child, and serving as a coach.

Direct, or “Right Answer” examples ask about important information:

  • Who are those people carrying away our TV?
  • What happened to your sister’s hair?
  • When should you not announce your bathroom needs?
  • Where did you put the cat this time?
  • Why does your brother want to hit you with a stick?
  • How can I help make your room smell better?

Conversation 1Then there are Open-ended questions that are meant to start meaningful conversations with others, inviting everyone present to explore together a fundamental concept, a guiding principle, a new theory, a thorny issue or an enduring problem.

When adults pose genuine questions for which they do not and cannot know the answers, their objectives and roles are quite different. The children are being invited into a conversation in which we know they can add unique information or thoughts. Their contributions light the path for carrying on free-flowing discussions about complex issues.

Open-ended or “Conversation” examples ask for collaboration from OTHERS:

  • Who might be helpful for addressing this problem?
  • What other ways do people respond when friends ask for help?
  • When are some good times to share a big problem with your family?
  • Where would be a good location for this event?
  • Why do you think David acted that way?
  • How did you feel about Desiree’s decision?

Other’s contributions flow naturally into deeper conversation. Regardless of the source or intent of a question, each interchange teaches children how to ask for and find similarities and differences with others and to explore new possibilities.

Teachers and parents might wish to consider how they use books to demonstrate for children how to engage with others:

To get specific answers? Then naturally, they will be eager to demonstrate for their kids how to ask and answer direct questions.

To inquire about the perspectives of others, or to invite them to share around a difficult topic or important event? Then we need to be Conversation 2teaching them to see themselves as contributors, along with others, and to see the benefits of inviting people with unique perspectives to add to their learning. Both of these kinds of questions and answers need to be part of their literary experience from very early on.

Each of these two categories of questions has its place, so  we adults who are dutifully reading to / with kids will want to remember that we really aren’t just reading. While enjoying books together readers are  also thinking, and discussing. Such inquiring experiences ensure that children grow up feeling comfortable not only in answering, but  in asking all kinds of questions as well.


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