How Do I Get My Students To Ask Questions?

Facilitative questions provide multiple opportunities for students to share by asking questions that facilitate critical thinking skills. Here's how to use them.

Regardless of where the documentation takes place, the key to keep in mind is this: the list of questions that the students produce could be posted in a location that encourages the students to reference it throughout the unit.What is a “facilitative question”?

A facilitative question is a strategy that teachers use to center "student voice" as they engage in critical thinking exercises. Facilitative questions also help students process topics within cooperative learning, engaging in reflective exercises, and working within peer evaluation situations.

A facilitative question must be open-ended, meaning that the response goes beyond yes, no, or reciting a prescribed answer. A facilitative questioning strategy might contain one or more questions designed to enhance students’ understanding, or for summative and formative assessments. In addition, these questions help  teachers make important decisions about instructional next steps based on student misconceptions or prior concept mastery. 

Why Use Facilitative Questioning? 

Traditional teaching techniques might have teachers asking students questions that confirm content was correctly observed. “Did you see X?” or “Did you hear how when X happened it caused Y and Z?”

This type of questioning centers the teacher as the source of correct content information, closes pathways to potential connections, and it does not probe students for depth of understanding. 

Facilitative questioning, however, intentionally slows thought processes so that students can negotiate new understandings by clarifying their own ideas and comparing them to their peers’ ideas. Wait time is critical in facilitative questioning. It also helps the teacher to notice existing “funds of knowledge” that may help students make sense of the phenomena by making connections to familial, local, and cultural knowledge  (Moll and Amanti, 2006).


Facilitative questions provide opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas and to respond to peer and teacher feedback orally, in written form, or graphically, as appropriate for the learner and the learning task. 

Getting Started with Facilitative Questioning

Your students may not ask a lot of questions at first, and that's OK. Students not used to facilitative questioning may hesitate to provide ideas or reasoning at first. The key is to ease them into it by providing a safe environment to do so. 

How do we do this? Start with plenty of wait time. This step is critical in facilitative questioning strategies. Give students time to process the question. Also, keep in mind that as long as the students are producing ideas that are related to the topic, their ideas generated are valuable. 

If you aren't sure if an idea is related, a follow-up facilitative question can help make that determination: "Can you tell us more about ___ ? Hmm, can you tell us how you made that connection?"

Unpacking A Phenomena with Facilitative Questioning

What did you observe? What did you see/hear/feel/smell?

How can we organize the things we noticed? How do they belong together? How do they belong apart?

What questions might a scientist or engineer ask that would help to explain the phenomena?

These sequential questions can be answered as a whole group, small group, partners, or individually, depending on the teacher’s purpose. 

What did you observe? What did you see/hear/feel/smell?

If the teacher is facilitating this questioning as a whole group activity, they might call on volunteers or ask each student to contribute a single thing that they noticed. This is an excellent strategy for complex phenomena where there are many interrelated concepts. If the teacher is having students process the phenomena independently in writing before sharing ideas with the class, they might consider asking each student to list at least 10 things that they noticed.

How can we organize the things we noticed? How do they belong together? How do they belong apart?

As the sequential questions become more complex, teachers can also switch between collaborative and independent responses if students are hesitant to contribute, or if conversation might help students make more meaning of what they’ve observed. 

What questions might a scientist or engineer ask that would help to explain the phenomena?

This final step in the sequence for unpacking the phenomenon could start with independent thinking, but it must be collaboratively shared with the whole group. Ask students what they find puzzling or confusing about what they’ve observed and record their questions. Scientists and engineers ask questions to help themselves explain the world around us and to solve complex problems. This is a Science and Engineering Process that is part of the 3D Model for NGSS. 

Developing a Driving Question Board with the questions generated by processing the phenomena together as a class. 

As you collaboratively develop a list of noticings, complexities, and questions, the class is going to produce a wealth of ideas. But teachers should not expect themselves or the students to carry that mental load for the entire unit. Instead, document the student-generated questions, ideas, observations, etc. This way, learners can return to them throughout the unit to add questions as well as categorize and refine noticings and observations with content vocabulary.

This documentation can take a variety of forms. For example: 

  • Written on a whiteboard.
  • Typed in a collaborative word processing document.
  • Written on chart paper and displayed in a specific classroom location.

The key is to keep the list of questions that students produce in a location that encourages repeated reference and refinement throughout the unit.

Depending on the age and maturity of the students, it might help to have one or more students responsible for documenting the ideas. However the documentation is collected, teachers should keep in mind that the idea is to stay mentally present with the facilitative questioning and processing of the students’ ideas. 

Facilitative Questioning with Propello

Propello's lessons and activities are designed to incorporate the the facilitative questioning process. For more information about questioning and providing opportunities for more discourse in the classroom, check out our free e-book: "Deepening Learning With Discourse: A Guide for Bringing Inquiry Into The Classroom"