20 Questions that Promote Inquiry-Based Learning

By Kristin Daniel and Bonnie Lathram

Why do good questions matter? How can educators use inquiry to foster deeper learning?

Inquiry is a way of teaching that encourages people to ask questions and to seek meaning. The role of a professional learning leader is to design learning experiences that foster discussion, collaboration, communication, and connection.

Inquiry-based learning encourages the learner to make meaning of what they are learning. Daniel Willingham, author and cognitive scientists, writes about the difference between shallow knowledge and deep meaning. “Cognitive science has shown that what ends up in a learner’s memory is not simply the material presented—it is the product of what the learner thought about when he or she encountered the material.”

How do teachers and professional learning leaders encourage thought? Designing learning experiences that foster thinking means being intentional about the prompts and the questions we are asking of our students.

In Are We Asking the Right Questions? by Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Globe, the authors write, “….a question is more than the simple thing we might think it is—that, in fact, it’s a unique instrument that we can get better at using if we try. Wielded with purpose and care, a question can become a sophisticated and potent tool to expand minds, inspire new ideas, and give us surprising power at moments when we might not believe we have any.”

Here is a bank of clarifying and probing questions for learning activities that help promote inquiry-driven participant work. Clarifying questions help us gather more information, seek specificity, and uncover connections. Probing questions uncover participant’s thinking and beliefs, increase participant’s self-awareness, and empower participants to solve a problem. If we are seeking mental engagement, activities that encourage participants to be both the inquirer and the participant make sure all are engaged and helping to make meaning.

Probing Questions

Clarifying Question Stems and Examples:

  1. Did I hear you say…?
  2. Can you give me an example…?
  3. Tell me what you mean when you said…
  4. Can you explain more about that?
  5. Tell me more about…
  6. What criteria did you use…?
  7. What resources did you collect…?

Probing Questions

Probing Question Stems and Examples:

Probing questions promote deep thinking, help the participant reflection on their own ideas, and challenge their own assumptions.

Probing Questions Stems and Examples:

  1. What is the connection between x and y?
  2. What if the opposite were true?
  3. What would you have to change in order for…?
  4. How do you feel when…?
  5. What might this tell you about…?
  6. If you were x, how would you see this situation?
  7. What’s another way you might…?
  8. What sort of impact do you think that would have on…?
  9. How did you decide/come to that conclusion?
  10. How might your assumptions about…influenced your thinking?
  11. And…what else?
  12. What are we missing?
  13. What will you do first? next?

The National School Reform Faculty also has an excellent 5 Whys Protocol for promoting inquiry. Many of us at GOA have participated in the 5 Whys Protocol in various settings, and it’s guaranteed to drive the participant deeper and challenge their ideas and insights and distill new meaning. This is excellent in partners, with each person taking turns in the interviewer role.

Summer is a busy time at GOA, with our in person summer conference for professional learning in full swing. To stay in the loop on our summer conference, including free ways to be involved asynchronously, follow GOA on Twitter @GOALearning and use the hashtag #GOALearning.

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