By Beth Montgomery, The DBQ Project
Identifying bad questions is often easier than identifying good ones. “Read Chapter 3, Section 2 and answer the questions that follow” is not an inspiring question. “Explain What Happened During the Industrial Revolution” is too broad to capture most people’s imaginations or interest.
Questions that can be answered by looking up the answer on an electronic device or in a textbook or encyclopedia are perhaps a means to an end but they are not very memorable or engaging.
Here’s an example. When we are not feeling too imaginative we might be satisfied to ask students questions like: “Who was Magellan?” or “Where did Magellan sail as he circumnavigated the world? or even “Why were the Straits of Magellan named that?” But none of these are very engaging.
A better question is “Would You Have Defended Magellan?” because is raises so many sub-questions. Who was Magellan? What did he do? Why did he need defending? Why would anyone wonder whether he needed to be defended? Was he a victim or did he deserve what he got?
What makes a question good? Good questions are usually phrased in fairly direct terms but they are complex enough to require answers that come from a variety of perspectives. Good questions can be answered with different levels of sophistication and depth. They can be fun to answer collaboratively or through extended research. The best questions prompt even more questions and could always be answered more completely if there were more evidence.
Asking good questions is important because they motivate students to plow through complex readings. Good questions allow students to challenge each other’s perspectives and weigh the importance of different sources of information. Good questions make learning interesting and fun.