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Generating Questions: The Heart of Inquiry

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Cultivating Keen Observers
When you help students hone observation skills, they'll develop a greater depth and breadth of descriptions, new questions, and more useful data. The more time you give them, the more detailed their observations will be. As students observe something firsthand or view a video clip* or photo, work progressively through the following question categories to inspire "deeper" levels of observation. What new "wonderings" do the observations spark? (Students can create a What I Observe/What I Wonder chart in their journals.)

    Questions About Details
  • What do you notice?
  • How would you describe what you see/hear?
  • First have students take a "macro" view of the whole scene. Then have them move closer or otherwise shift focus so they have a closeup view of a small area. Ask, What more do you notice when you shift your perspective?
  • If practical, have youngsters "observe" with a variety of senses or give them tools, such as hand lenses, thermometers, or a microscope to extend their senses. Ask, What new information did you uncover?
    Comparison Questions
  • How is it the same as? Different than?
  • What does it remind you of? What changes do you notice?

    Counting/Measuring Questions
  • How many? How long? How often?

    Prediction Questions
  • What do you think (predict) will happen next? Why?
  • What do you think would happen if?
    Reasoning Questions
  • What do you think is happening and why?
  • How could you explain?
  • What is your hypothesis?
  • How might someone else explain or interpret this same scene/phenomenon?

* If you show a fairly short video clip, consider playing it through several times and have students go a bit "deeper" each time along this questioning continuum. If the clip has sound, consider playing it through once without sound, once with sound only, and once with both sound and image. Ask, How do your observations differ in each case?

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