Question Everything

“The answers you have are only as good as the questions you’ve asked.” –Rebecca Trotter

    Throughout all of my experience with Guided Inquiry, I have faced one recurring problem. Questions. How do I teach my students to craft quality questions? How do I teach my students think for themselves? How do I help my students appreciate controlling their own learning?

    I have a feeling that if I were to discover the answer to this question, I would be able to retire on my private island. Really it’s more than one question, but like lions and tigers and bears, they seem to be inseparable. In order to teach my students to craft quality questions, I need to teach them to think for themselves, but in order to think for themselves, they need to control their own learning…. Yikes.  

    This isn’t a problem that I face alone. When Dana and I returned from CiSSL, we trained several other teachers in the full Guided Inquiry Design process. We continue to work with new teachers and, frankly, anyone who will listen about the importance of inquiry. Even when we cannot take a teaching unit through the full GID process, we keep inquiry at the heart of our teaching. We are working to create students who question rather than absorb information.

    The magic happens when we create that third space where the students realize the importance of the learning in their own lives. When the classroom and life cross over and become one. That’s when our students truly begin to question. In order to get there, we have to move our students beyond looking to us to give them topics and ideas to pursue. They must come to those ideas on their own because they are the ideas that matter to the students.

    Some of our students go there immediately. They come with ideas that need tweaked into questions. Others ask, “What should I do?” Not only do they not have a question, they aren’t sure where to start. Sometimes it takes longer to change the philosophy of our students than it does to change the philosophy of our teachers.

    Eventually, our students will see that, in the words of Thomas Berger, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” Crafting quality questions can improve not only education but life. Guided Inquiry isn’t just for the classroom; it is for all of us. In fact, my new philosophy is Question Everything.


Jennifer Danner


English Department Chair

Jonathan Alder High School

Plain City, Ohio


  1. Creating questions is essential to a valuable inquiry experience. I have been very successful in getting my students to create strong guiding questions…my frustration is how to teach them to create the subsidiary questions that will help them answer that big question.
    This week we worked on our historical poetry unit. Students became frustrated with their research because they couldn’t find answers to their subsidiary questions. The teachers and I were constantly stressing that it is okay to throw questions out and create new ones based on their reading. Trying to build that independence for them to recognize it’s okay.

  2. Thanks for sharing your challenge here, Patty!
    I’m wondering if you changed a little to not have students pin down their subsidiary questions at Identify, but to let them hold onto an inquiry stance as they Gather. Then questions would arise out of reading deeply and the information available.
    Uncertainty is real in inquiry and this is part of the uncomfortable nature of this learning, being open to new ideas and perspectives as well as new questions when they arise. Encouraging an inquiry stance is a critical component to what we need to guide. This guidance comes in many forms, how we talk to students, what we ask them to do and when and the structure of our unit. Blocks like this are so important to notice, recognize, determine the root cause and then find a strategy to shift what we do to better meet them where they are. Sometimes, of course, it is the group of kids and their nature or perhaps rigidity with their thinking. Other times it could be how we designed the work even something subtle that might have caused a block. I think working on having an inquiry stance would be important and being flexible even with that main inquiry question as they move forward to learn more about the topic through research and finding information. It’s a super important piece to this greater whole. I’d be interested to hear if and how you change things for next time… Thanks again for sharing your thinking here!

    1. Always tweaking this lesson; the key is to remain flexible to students’ needs. We normally Identify the GQ and at least two subsidiary questions to help them determine the direction they want to head. We model how new questions arise as they dig deeper in their reading. This years group struggled with that…will “pause and ponder” on what we need to tweak. 🙂

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