Ask away

Encourage students to ask questions.   | Photo Credit: Freepik

“Can you name a skill that you think everyone should learn or have?” Recently, when someone posed this question to me, I replied, “Questioning”. American journalist and author Warren Berger’s statement “Knowing the answers will help you in school, but knowing how to question will help you in life” flashed through my mind.

Is ‘questioning’ a skill? It doesn’t matter whether you call it a skill or an art. Everyone, especially students, should master it. It is a powerful tool. We ask questions for various purposes — to ask for information, to seek clarification, to challenge someone or something, and so on. One question usually leads to another. It is a gateway to knowledge, and helps students think out loud, leads to discussion, teaches them to accept and tolerate others’ views, helps them improve their communication, builds their creative and critical thinking skills, motivates them to show more interest in the topic discussed, and so on. It helps us deconstruct and construct knowledge and become better thinkers and more independent learners. If these are the benefits of ‘questioning’, why does our education system not promote this art/skill?


Questions can open the minds of questioners as well as those who are asked. In a classroom, when a student asks a question, the question has the power to make everyone think of different answers. Certain tough questions can challenge teachers, and might force them to come well prepared to the class.

“What is the most frightening word for you as a novice teacher?” This question was posed to a group of newly recruited young teachers at a training workshop. The resource person asked the participants to write their answer on a paper. When he collected the answers and read them out, a couple of teachers had written: “Questions”. Yes, some questions from smart students do terrify and frighten some teachers. Teachers who encourage their students to ask questions are ready to be challenged. Don’t we need more teachers who can challenge their students intellectually and are ready to be challenged?

Good teachers trigger students’ curiosity and encourage them to ask simple/tough, creative/critical, and thought-provoking questions. Instead of transferring knowledge, they enable students to construct knowledge. Isn’t that the purpose of education?

Why should we teach the art of questioning to students? In a traditional classroom, teachers ask some simple fact-checking questions to students to test their knowledge and level of comprehension. Many do not encourage students to ask questions and engage in discussion. As a result, students remain passive consumers of knowledge. When teachers encourage students to ask questions, they become creative and critical thinkers and, in the process, active constructors of knowledge.

Passive consumers of knowledge fail to look at things critically. They neither reflect on nor analyse the information or content they receive. They act as mere sponges that absorb everything. On social media platforms, such people blindly forward the messages they received or comment without fully reading them. Active constructors of knowledge look at the content critically and raise questions.

Here is an interesting activity. Give a sentence or a question and ask students to write a series of questions and answers. Here is a sample:

Q1: Why do you learn English?

A1: I learn English in order to become an effective communicator.

Q2: Why do you want to become an effective communicator?

A2: Communication is one of the most important skills in the twenty-first century.

Q3: Why is it considered an important skill?

A3: It is very much needed in the workplace.



This process of asking helps students reflect and enables them to ask the right questions. When this activity is done collaboratively, it can lead to a meaningful discussion.

Dear teachers, encourage and empower your learners to ask open-ended, critical and tough questions. Enthuse them to challenge you with their thought-provoking questions. When you do this, you and your students will experience the joy of moving from mere knowledge transfer/consumption to knowledge construction/creation stage.

The writer is an ELT resource person and education columnist.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 4:57:51 AM |

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