by Rachel Robbins
A friend once told me that her son excels at science because she doesn’t know much about it. He would ask her questions and she’d reply, “I’m not sure, what do you think?” Later, they would look up the answers and compare them with his theories. I agreed with her. She helped him become the budding scientist that he is by asking the right questions. Or rather, by asking the right kinds of questions.
What are the right kinds of questions? And why should you ask them?
A main goal for educators is to encourage critical thinking skills for students at all levels. Higher order thinking skills (HOTS) include the ability to interact with information on a level higher than memorization and recall.
Encourage higher order thinking skills by asking open ended questions.
Ask questions that encourage reflection and have more than one right answer. While reading, prompt students to predict what will happen next, make explicit connections between themselves and the text, draw inferences from the text, and evaluate and synthesize information.
Predict: “What do you think will happen next?”
Connect: “What would you have done in that situation?”
Infer: “How did Fudge find out?” or, “Why did Pippi say that?”
Evaluate: “Did Matilda make the best choice here? What else could she have done?”
Synthesize: “What was the main idea?” “What did the Murray children learn?”
Prompting students to reflect
Begin a question that prompts reflection by including the right verb.
Verbs and phrases that explicitly prompt reflection:
why do you think...
how do you think...
where do you think...
In your opinion...
Encourage the student to take a moment to reflect, or to journal for a few minutes before answering.
Encourage higher order thinking skills anytime and anywhere
These sorts of questions aren’t confined to connecting students with texts. They work in a variety of situations. They can help a student make a difficult decision by ranking their options and talking through the pros and cons. They can encourage reflection on educational outings, stories told by elders, or about current events. It’s never too early to start encouraging higher order thinking skills.
Rachel Robbins is a native Michigander and tutor at The Literacy and Language Center, Inc.