Introduction To The Question Formulation Technique

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SWBAT collaborate to formulate good questions by following a specific protocol.

Big Idea

Formulating good questions is an essential thinking skill.

Introduction to the Question Formulation Technique

5 minutes

Today students are introduced to a highly structured technique to help them formulate good questions. This technique will be used throughout the year. It takes an entire class period to introduce technique, but once students are familiar with it, the technique can be used again and it will take less time.

I begin by discussing something we have talked about in class already, that the ability to ask good questions is an essential thinking skill. I let them know that today they will learn a technique where they engage in a group activity that helps them formulate good questions.

The technique is called The Question Formulation Technique and it has the following components. I will be walking students through these steps and will show each step one at a time. I use this Power Point Presentation, Question Formulation Technique powerpoint, to walk them through each step of the technique.

  1. A Question Focus
  2. Rules for Producing Questions
  3. Producing Questions
  4. Prioritizing Questions
  5. Next Steps

You should know that the Question Focus should be brief. It can be a single word, a phrase, a sentence, a quote from a text, an image, etc. As the name suggests, the Question Focus is the focus of the questions students formulate. For this lesson, the question focus is POWER. This means they will be formulating questions about the concept of POWER. I selected this as the question focus for this lesson because this concept is at the center of social criticism theory, which we have been studying for a couple of lessons. I do not show students the Question Focus until they are ready to start formulating questions. The next step is to explain the second component of this technique, the rules.



Explain Rules of The QFT

8 minutes

I divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Each group will work together to formulate questions. I explain the second component using the Power Point Presentation.

Component #2, Rules for Producing Questions:

  • I explain to students that they will be working in groups to formulate questions about the concept of Power and that they will follow four rules.  I show them the rules and will leave them posted during the time they work in groups to formulate questions.

 Rules For Producing Questions






  • I explain each rule:
    • I explain to students that the purpose of rule #1 is to get each group to come up with a long list of questions because the longer the list the likelier it is that they will come up with great questions.
    • I explain to students that rule #2 has two purposes. One is to ensure that groups are focused in producing a steady flow of questions. This is essentially a brainstorming session. The other purpose is to ensure that every group member feels comfortable enough to share every single question that comes to mind without worrying about someone judging the quality of it.
    • I explain to students that one person in each group will be writing all the questions on a piece of paper and that rule #3 is mainly for them. The purpose is to avoid changing the meaning or intent of the question by changing the wording.
    • I explain that rule #4 is just making the group aware of the fact that as the questions begin to flow, students may begin to make statements and if that happens, these should be turned into questions before writing them down.
  • I as student to reflect on rules:
    • I ask students to think about the rules and to identify the rule(s) that they predict will be the most difficult for them to follow. I ask students to share their thoughts. It is important to allow students to think about and express what they predict will be difficult about this activity. I respond to their concerns. I assure them that Rule #1 will happen naturally if they all focus. For Rule #2, I let them know that they will have the opportunity to evaluate and discuss questions in the next step. For Rule #3, I tell students to make an effort to state their question as clearly as possible to make the job of the recorder much easier. These are the rules some of my students have identified as being challenging. I have never had students predict difficulties with the last rule.

I then give each group 30 seconds to decide who will record the questions on a piece of paper then ask each recorder to raise their hand to make sure each group did select someone and is ready to go. They are now ready to work in groups to formulate questions.

Students Engage in the QFT

10 minutes

 For this part of the activity, I explain component #1 and #3.

  • Component #1, a Question Focus, and #3, Producing Questions:  I explain to students that, as the name suggests, the Question Focus is the focus of the questions they will formulate. I then reveal the question focus for this lesson, POWER. I write it on the board and leave it posted for the remainder of the activity. I tell them that POWER is a concept that is at the center of social criticism theory, meaning that all those terms we have been studying have to do with the concept of POWER. I ask them if there is any confusion and clarify. The point of this activity will be more clear to them at the end of the period today and many will just follow the steps and wait for that to happen. Some will be confused and will ask questions like, "So, we are asking questions? What are we asking questions about?" I simply point to the question focus and restate that they will be asking questions about POWER, any question that comes to mind. I emphasize the fact that this will feel much like a brainstorming session and they should just push themselves to open their mind and let the questions flow so that they may increase the chances of coming up with really strong questions.

Students are now ready to formulate questions. I give students 5 minutes to formulate questions following the four rules. During this time, my role is to walk around and listen to the questions students are formulating. If necessary, I gently remind them of the rules, especially #2, which is the hardest to follow. This is my only role during this time as it is important that the formulated questions are entirely student-generated. I expect some groups to come up with a total of 5 questions while others come up with 20. They will all get better at this later. I ask the recorder to number the questions on their list. Students WILL come up with great questions. This is a sample list of student-generated questions one group of students produced in my class for today's lesson.

Students Prioritize Questions

15 minutes

This step addresses Component #4, Prioritizing Questions:

  • I ask groups to review the entire list of questions and to work together to select the three most important questions. I instruct them to think of the Question Focus as they prioritize. I explain that the three questions they select will be the most important in relation to the concept of POWER, the Question Focus. I ask students to write their three most important questions on chart paper prioritizing them so that question #1 on their chart is their most important question in relation to the Question Focus, question #2 is their second most important, and so on. I ask students to be ready to share their work.

As they work I mainly listen in on their conversations. I do have to highlight the importance of working together to prioritize because when they share their questions, they will also be expected to explain their rationale for prioritizing in that order. This is the hardest part of this activity and I have to remind them of this repeatedly because many will try to skip the discussion and once they share they will have nothing to say regarding their rationale for selecting those questions in that order.

Students Share Questions

15 minutes

I give each group an opportunity to share their work by doing two things. These are also listed in the Power Point.

  • First, they need to post the chart with their three questions and read them aloud. 
  • Second, they need to explain their rationale for choosing priority questions and choosing that particular order. 

As students share questions, others listen attentively. The questions they come up with are very good and classmates will openly show appreciation. See samples in the following reflection.

Finally, I ask them to say what number each of the three questions was on the original list. I whip around and ask each group to say the three original numbers. The point of this is to help students become aware of the fact that the best questions tend to show up later, which is why brainstorming is a valuable process. I help students arrive at this conclusion by repeating each of the three numbers each group gives us and asking all students to pay attention to any patterns. Once every group has shared, I ask them to explain the pattern. They can easily see that these questions tend to appear later in their lists. I ask them what point they think I am trying to make. They will say that the point is that the best questions come later in the process.


2 minutes

I praise students for the great questions they came up with. I ask them to post them on a bulletin board I set aside for this. I let students know that they will be using these questions for a writing assignment.

This is what one student remembers about the Question Formulation Technique when I asked him about it a few months later.