When children are little they are very curious about everything around them, but as they get older this tends to diminish. How can we, as teachers, recapture this creativity? We can stimulate curiosity in our students by teaching them to ask the right kind of questions. In this post, I’ll share how to teach students to ask those questions in a way that is engaging and can be used regularly in science.
Stimulate Curiosity with the Right Kind of Questioning
Every classroom involves questioning, but it is often driven by questions that teachers pose and in most cases, they are at the recall or memory level of questioning. These are not the kinds of questions that will elicit curiosity in students. In science, these teacher-centered questions promote standard investigations which in turn leads to a “formulaic” kind of practice rather than students truly learning to conduct investigations or solve problems. Instead of teaching the step-by-step “formulaic” methods of science, we should instead use what feels authentic to students, such as taking their observations, turning them into questions, and then learning to investigate them.
Day 1 – Observations
Before we can teach students to ask the right questions, we need to get them to ask any question. We begin this through the process of observation.
Break students up into groups and provide each group with a set of objects related to your unit of study. For instance, if you’re studying an Earth unit, you could provide soil, sand, rocks, grasses, trees, and water. If you’re studying a plant unit, you could provide them with seeds, leaves, grasses, trees, weeds, bark, and flowers to observe.
First, ask students what they think make a good observation. Next, model to students how to make proper observations and to fill in a t-chart similar to the image below. Then have students complete their t-chart based on the items in their group. Students can write or draw their observations.
After all students have created a list of their observation questions, have them circulate around the room and take note of other students’ lists. This is a good time to discuss what they observed and if they matched or not. Then provide them with these questions to discuss as a group.
Day 2- Creating Questions
Take your modeled observations from the previous day and model to the class how to turn those observations into questions. Try to create a variety of questions, such as measuring and counting questions, how questions, why questions, problem posing questions, comparison questions, and so on.
Then provide an item at the front of the classroom, such as a cactus, a lava lamp, or a rock with a fossil and have students practice creating questions related to that item. You can help students with the wording, but don’t throw questions out there. Remember, in the beginning, questions will be more “simple” and over time with practice become more “sophisticated.”
After students have practiced creating questions and you feel they are ready, have them then return to the previous day’s t-chart and complete the other side based on their observations.
Day 3- Classifying Questions
Now that students have actually created questions, it’s important for them to determine if they are “investigative questions” or “searchable” questions. (Some questions may actually fit in both categories.)
To begin this portion of the lesson, create and print example questions that are cut up into strips (like the image below). Provide these strips for each group. Have the students sort them based on whether they could (with proper equipment) collect data to answer the question (investigative) or just look up the answer (searchable).
After students have sorted them in their groups, discuss together how they chose to sort the questions. Clarify any misconceptions (and this is also a good time to go over the questions that fit into both categories) and then have students return to their list of questions on their t-chart and sort those into the two types. Students may need to add questions to have at least 3 of each type.
What to Do With the Questions
Now that you have these two sets of questions (that you can compile together as a whole class if desired) you can use these to help you plan your lessons to keep students’ interests and curiosity piqued throughout the science unit! Some of the questions could be investigations you could use, while the other questions you could have student research or learn as you progress through the unit.
When students are curious and full of wonder, they are definitely going to learn more and have a high level of engagement! Teaching students to create their own questions through the use of observations at the beginning of science units is a great place to start!
Check out these other great ideas for inspiring wonder and curiosity with upper elementary students!
From Left to Right:
“Writing Riddles” for Mini-Research in Science | Tarheelstate Teacher
3 Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning During Reading | Think Grow Giggle
Modifying Math Word Problems to Encourage Curiosity | Mix and Math
Wonder Walls & STEM Challenges | Kerry Tracy
Word Wonders: Collecting Multisyllabic Words | Reading by Heart
Using Visible Thinking to Read With Wonder | Wild Child’s Mossy Oak Musings
Stimulating Curiosity through Questioning | The Owl Teacher
Inspiring Curiosity through Technology | Love Learning
Mathematicians Inspire Wonder & Curiosity | Tried and True Teaching Tools
Taking KWL Charts Up a Notch | Elementary Inquiry