When children get to a certain age (around two or three years old) they start wanting to know ‘why?’ about what seems like every little thing. “Why is the sky blue, Mommy?”, “Why do I have to eat my vegetables, Mommy?”, “Mommy, why are you and daddy still asleep? I want to go to the park!” (at 6am on a Saturday morning).

Around this time the child’s cognitive abilities are rapidly developing, they are beginning to learn how to make mental connections between cause and effect and are eager to find out everything about how the world works – leading to an often exacerbating number of questions for tired parents.

However, as the child gets older, this level of constant questioning begins to subside until eventually the “whys” stop altogether. A study cited in an article for Newsweek found that on average pre-school children ask their parents around 100 questions per day, whereas middle school kids comparatively asked very few questions. But to go back to my former inquisitive toddler self, why is this?

This article will outline why children stop wanting to know why and give advice on how you can reignite that spark of inquisitiveness in your students.

Why do we stop wanting to know why

According to the creator of the TED Conference, Rickard Saul Wurman, in school, children are rewarded for having the right answer, not for asking a good question.

With the emphasis on memorization and testing, children quickly learn that in order to succeed in education, veering off on a tangent about any given subject is not worth their time or energy and may end up losing them marks. They know that the examiners and teachers are looking for them to regurgitate the ‘right’ kinds of responses and will therefore stick to the prescribed syllabus.

Also, greater emphasis in schools is commonly placed onto subjects like Maths and Science where, granted there is a lot of scope to raise interesting questions, but due to the limited time for exploring theories in class, there can be little ambiguity in the way these subjects are taught.

Why asking questions is important

Asking lots of questions is a sign of creativity, an important skill that seems to be in decline amongst this generation of school children. By encouraging your students to ask more questions, you can improve their cognitive abilities in the following ways:

  • Questions motivate children to seek out knowledge that aligns with their interests and can therefore foster a lifelong love of learning.
  • They help children form links between pieces of information which in turn can help them develop well-structured essays and debates.
  • Can challenge pre-conceived ideas and give them the confidence to put forward their own views.

Tips for getting your pupils to ask more questions in class

  • Ask more open-ended questions in class to encourage higher-order thinking. For example, if you have just shared an extract from a book with your pupils, ask them a question that requires them to empathise with the characters and imagine themselves in a similar situation, rather than getting them to recall facts. For more examples of open-ended questions, check out The Six Types of Socratic Questions.
  • Pause for about five to ten seconds after you have posed the question and don’t take an answer from the first person to raise their hand. This will encourage the pupils to think more before forming their responses.
  • When introducing a new subject, get your pupils to write up say five questions they want answered by the time you’ve covered the topic in full, and share the questions in a class discussion. You could even reward the more interesting contributions to promote questioning in your classroom.
  • Developing high-order thinking skills requires careful teacher planning in order to keep pupils engaged and ‘on subject’. In a process called ‘scaffolding’ teachers need to provide a clear structure at the beginning of the lesson, modelling the thinking skills you want to develop alongside examples of applied thinking. For the plan to have maximum effectiveness ‘support’ should be removed gradually, so that your pupils are able to demonstrate these skills themselves.
  • Never devalue a mistaken contribution or silly question from a student. Instead respond positively by exploring (briefly) the reasons why they may have said that, and then ask them to think carefully again and come back to them later.

If you have any tips for getting students to ask more questions, please leave a comment below.

Photo By: mbeo