Teaching Questioning Skills

A little boy looking up at the camera lens looking like he is about to ask a question.

Our children are full of questions. We are inundated and overwhelmed by their relentless need to know things. A simple change in perspective can show us how asking good questions can lead to independence, learning, and intrinsic motivation.

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We know play is the work of children. They learn by manipulating things in their environment and by watching others do so. Children also learn by asking questions. They need to make sense of the world around them – so they ask.


Metacognition involves something that most people do all day: think about thinking. Obviously everyone thinks – from infants to the elderly – we all have thoughts. But to be aware of those thoughts is something different. In the field of education it is considered a holy grail of sorts when a child realizes whether or not he understands a concept.

Children who think critically are more in tune with their own cognition than those who don't. That is the goal. Metacognitive thinking is a critical part of the learning process and simply knowing yourself as an intelligent human being.

Often students (and people) go through life without thinking much at all. But we can change that! It is the quality of questions that help an individual to tune into metacognitive thinking.


Talk about working overtime – the brain never shuts off. Like a soldier, it's always on guard, guiding us, protecting us, and leading us.

Consider a book you've recently read or a movie you've watched lately. While reading or watching, you probably thought something along the lines of ‘Why did he do that?' or ‘What will happen next?'

THAT is the kind of questioning that leads to metacognitive thinking. This type of open-ended question encourages the brain to make connections and predictions, strengthening synapses in the brain.

The Right Kind of Question

The outcome of questions is language. Therefore, questions should foster talking and thinking – ideally, in both parties.

The questions to model and encourage for children do NOT include the 4 W's: who, what, when and where. Why? Answer will likely be very brief with little depth.

Example: What are we having for dinner? Example answer: grilled chicken and green beans. See that? Not a lot of deep information.

By contrast, asking a WHY or HOW question will produce a much richer, more detailed answer – and perhaps even a follow-up question.

Example question: Why do we have to leave the park so early?

Example answer: We're leaving earlier because it's getting dark earlier.

Follow-up question: Why is it getting dark earlier?

Follow-up answer: It gets dark earlier because the seasons are changing and we're moving from Summer into Fall.

At this point, the conversation can turn to what causes the seasons, the Earth's rotation, the sun's tilt, the position of the U.S. on the globe, and so on. From one simple query, we are heading into a full-blown PBL science lesson!

Keep in mind that the transformation to more open-ended questions doesn't happen overnight. As in everything parenting-related, you must model the behaviors you want to see in your children. So ask those ‘why' and ‘how' questions of your child – and celebrate their curiosity every time you respond patiently to yet another question!

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