Are questioners born or made? What happens to the “born questioners” when they enter school at 5 years old? Do they become “unmade questioners”? Or maybe we should
be asking this: What can we do to ensure that by
the time all students leave high school, they’re
proficient at asking questions?
The problem is, as one teacher told us, “getting
students to ask questions feels like pulling teeth.”
So how can teachers transform that feeling and
create classrooms that come alive with questions?
It requires two simple changes.
First, teachers need to give students both a
structure and the opportunity to practice gen-
erating and working with their own questions.
The very act of producing questions, however,
can be a challenge for many students. We have,
therefore, made it the very first step in our
Question Formulation Technique, a deceptively
simple process we created for teaching all people,
no matter their level of education, how to ask
better questions. By going through the steps of
the process, students learn to think divergently,
convergently, and metacognitively.
We’ve found that by beginning with the following four rules for producing questions, we
can create the space and structure that allows all
people to start asking questions:
1. Ask as many questions as you can.
2. Don’t stop to judge, discuss, or answer any
3. Write down every question exactly as stated.
4. Change any statements into questions.
It would be great if the first rule would suffice.
But the three rules that follow are necessary to
jump-start question asking because they make
it safe to pose questions, ensure rigor in paying
careful attention to the actual wording of the
questions, and promote the divergent thinking
that’s required to produce a wide range of
The second change needed to get students
asking more questions relates to the teacher’s
role. Teachers shouldn’t communicate a judgment
too quickly about the quality of the students’
The Question Formulation Technique helps students move from
Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana, and Andrew P. Minigan
passive receivers of information to active seekers of knowledge.