The most important part of any science unit is not the experiments or activities or teaching… but rather the questions that the teacher asks. So what should we be asking and when should we use ask them?
Children learn best when they create their own learning. As teachers, the best thing we can do is to have students explore and experiment and build their own foundation of understanding. However, students cannot just be left alone with materials and be expected to learn on their own. They need a teacher to lift up their understanding. They need a teacher to lift up their zone of proximal development. Teachers do this by prompting questions.
Also, we want to model to our students that scientists are always asking questions. It also sets the expectation that scientists have to explain and prove their thinking.
Who is doing the talking?
An important question for teachers to routinely ask themselves is – “Who is doing the talking?” In an engaging purposeful classroom, the voice you should hear the most of is the students. A teacher does this most effectively by asking intentional questions and letting the students reason and explain their thinking.
Open-ended versus closed questions
There is a very big difference in the effectiveness of asking open-ended questions versus closed-ended. Closed-ended questions are ones that have a simple, one-word answer (which is often yes or no). For example, “Do you think that plants need water?” The answer the students give would either be yes or no. It doesn’t really give you much information as a teacher, it doesn’t give the student a chance to explain their thinking, and it doesn’t help grow their thinking. Open-ended questions require much more thought and explaining. They also often start with the words – what, why, or how.
Here are some of my go-to questions for my students:
- “Why do you think that?”
- “What do you think would happen if….”
- “How does that _____ work?”
- And a great go-to conversation starter that isn’t a question… “Tell me about that!”
Want to see an example of what I might ask during a science experiment? See this IGTV video!
Asking questions is a critical teaching technique when teaching science, and any other subject for that matter! Questions must be open-ended and encourage students to explain their thinking.
What is your favorite question to ask?