Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why Ask Why? 17 Different Types of Questions to Ask.

I listened to a teacher explain his pleasure in his teaching method. He explained that the secret to his being a successful educator is that he asks students “Why?”

The only question I had about this technique was “Why?”

His answer was because his mastery of “Why” teaching has led his students developing the critical thinking necessary to pass the Common Core tests. My first thought was, thank goodness people don't have to take these tests for success outside of school. My next was that I bet a lot of these kids find this guy to be such an annoying teacher. But, even if I was wrong, and asking "Why" can turn the mediocre teacher into one who is masterful, do we really need a teacher to do this? Just invite a five-year-old to the classroom.  They’re great at asking, “Why?”

Sarcasm aside, the more important issue here is that a teacher doesn’t become good because they learned to repeat a three letter word and has figured out how they can make their students answer it. A good teacher gives their students a more important skill. That is the skill of supporting students in learning how to ask their own relevant questions for real reasons and helping them develop questions that are more complex than just, “Why?”

There are many types of questions that teachers can help their students develop. The Questioning Toolkit provides these common question types:

We already know why the “Why” method teacher asks these questions. You remember, right? To help students do well on the test. But, if he wanted to start to improve practice and provide students with a useful skill, he could help them understand the type of questions they are being asked, which in his case seems simply like “Elaborating Questions” which might also be “Irrelevant Questions.”

From there, he could support the students in figuring out the right questions to ask, but this would not be questions about a contrived reading assignment. For real learning to occur, students could focus on relevant problems and then work on the right questions that need to be answered to address these problems. Do you wonder what this looks like? Check out the images below.

When we move to this type of questioning, thinking, and doing, real and meaningful learning can get underway. Have or could you see doing this with the students with whom you work? If so, share your ideas in the comments.  


  1. Great! I am going to use it this semester with my students! We invest 1.5 hour per week reading texts of several intellectuals only to make meaningful questions. Just that. Not necesarily to answer the questions but to improve them, to sharpen their edges and -most important- to develop critical thinking. I will let you know. Thanks

  2. Good information but this link did not work for me: Source:
    I'd like to get better rendering of the Questioning Toolkit images. Thanks.