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Question Brainstorm - A strategy to increase students' Q+D skills

Chances are that you have heard your administrator or another teacher talk about "questioning and discussion," and the need to increase Q&D in your classroom. While we often relate questions to those asked by the teacher, it is also important that the students are able to formulate their own questions and then engage in a conversation about them.

In this post, we will discuss the activity, Question Brainstorm, and how you can use it in your classroom to increase students’ ability to write and ask questions.

This activity can be used halfway through a lesson or unit once students have some background knowledge of the topic and can develop questions about a topic or statement.

There are five main steps to effectively run the Question Brainstorm activity.

  1. Teachers design a Focus.

  2. Students produce questions.

  3. Students adjust their questions.

  4. Students prioritize their questions.

  5. Students answer their questions

The first step for this activity is to have a focus topic. This involves coming up with a premise or opening statement that can provide a focal point for generating questions from the students. For example, "survival of the fittest ensures that only species strong enough to survive do." The students will then be divided into smaller groups, with the statement written on a large piece of paper. There should be enough space around the statement for the students to write on the paper as well. Depending on how many statements you create, and how you want to run the activity, each group can either have the same statement, or you can have a different statement for each group.

The next step is for students to write questions based off the statement. Within a time limit, the students will generate and write down questions pertaining to the focus topic. Students should only write questions, no opinions or answers. They should also not debate which questions are best. The purpose of this is to just keep the students inquiring about the topic and statement from a multitude of angles.

Next, the students will review and adjust their questions. During this activity, you can either have students in each group continue working with the sheet they had already written their questions on, or you can switch the papers and they will have a different groups’ paper. Students will adjust the questions that have been written down by either opening closed questions, or closing open ones. For example, an open question might be, “how did Darwin develop the term survival of the fittest?” Whereas, a closed question is “Did Darwin develop the term survival of the fittest?” In doing this, students learn that a single question can be altered and either narrowed down or expanded. Students should be encouraged to open or expand as many questions as possible in order to develop questions that would be beneficial for a discussion.

Once the questions have been adjusted, the students will then identify their top 3 questions. One way to do this is to allow each student in the group to vote on their top 3-5 questions, and the 3 with the most votes are selected.

Finally, the students will answer the questions. This can be done in a number of ways. If you want the students to remain in their group, they can either answer the top 3 questions in writing independently, or they can have a discussion about each question. Alternatively, each group can write their 3 questions on post-its or index cards and given to the teacher. The class could then come together and have a full-class discussion on the questions.

This is a great activity to teach students how to create and edit questions. Also, since students will then be required to answer the questions they created, it encourages student to student discussion. Students are more likely to respond to questions that have been generated by themselves or their peers because they have some ownership of the content, and it is not something that was dictated or asked by the teacher.

You can use this activity part way through a lesson or unit in order to elicit student thinking, to understand and gage their thoughts on a specific statement and to encourage discussion.

As with most things, it is always helpful to have students reflect back on the activity and identify what they might have struggled with when developing questions. This is always good to know so you can create additional lessons or supports later on in order to help them. In addition, some students might not be familiar with the terms “closed” and “open” questions. Therefore, be sure to explain these beforehand, and even provide examples or work together as a class to revise a question before beginning the activity. The more you engage in this activity, students will become more comfortable developing and revising questions in a controlled setting, and will therefore be able to do so informally during a general class discussion.

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