Questions and Thinking in Common Core
Part 2: Students as Questioners

Questions to Guide Inquiry: The Question Formulation Technique (QFT)

Students encounter questions when reading, solving problems, and facing new information.  But it is also true that students have “wonderings” and questions about the world that could be used as the basis for individual or small-group inquiry projects.  As with Question the Author, the teacher moves into a facilitator role. Our job is to instruct students in how to ask and answer their own questions and to seek out a variety of sources to meet their information needs. This post at Scholastic gives one teacher's account of how student questions during the reading of informational texts and historical fiction sometimes spur mini-research projects.

Asking the right question for an inquiry project so that the focus is narrow and the project successful can be difficult for students. One way to assist students with this is to use a technique developed by Rothstein and Santana, explained in this article in the Harvard Education Letter.  The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) has several steps:  brainstorming questions (divergent thinking), improving upon and prioritizing questions (convergent thinking), and planning next steps about what to do with the questions (reflective thinking).

With QFT, students examine their brainstormed questions and sort them into closed or open-ended questions.  Challenging them to change a closed question into an open-ended one encourages them to look at how the wording of the question will affect the quality and depth of their answers. From there the teacher guides them to prioritize, depending upon the task.  Examples might be to choose several questions of high interest that students want to explore further, or two questions that can be tested for a science experiment, or three questions that directly relate to a theme the class has been working with in literature. 

The next steps lead students through seeking the answers their questions—in a text, through other readers' ideas and discussion, or with outside sources such as an expert in the field, or websites or databases. As with other strategies, you will want students to keep track of their thinking—perhaps with charts that confirm (or change) their thinking.  (Have our questions been answered or not?)  Folder Boy is a tool reviewed by TeachersFirst that can be used for small group collaboration on more involved inquiry projects.  Students can post website urls, images, etc. and chat with other group members about what they discover.

Primary Pad is another collaborative writing tool suitable for both elementary and upper elementary levels.  Individual students contribute to a document for a group inquiry project, with each member's contributions color-coded. The best part is that is shows the changes in real time.

More options for reviewed collaboration tools can be found here in the TeachersFirst's Edge.



IntroductionDeveloping a MindsetDocument the Thinking
Question-Answer RelationshipsQuestioning the AuthorQuestions to Guide Inquiry