Questions Have Clout!

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SWBAT write a question that could lead to scientific inquiry.

Big Idea

Questions are the guiding force behind scientific inquiry!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description 

My children absolutely loved this lesson!  It creates an element of fun since you add music and movement!  The students will start off by practicing writing questions about science-related photos via musical chairs "with a twist" format.  They will discover that questions begin with common words-who, what, where, when, why, how and do.  Then a book titled Citizen Scientists will be read.  The fact that scientists in the book use questions to help guide their studies will be highlighted.  The children will then practice writing a good, solid question that could possibly lead to a scientific study.

Connections to NGSS

Science investigations begin with a question.  So teaching the children to question why things are the way they are is an essential part of the understanding of the science process as a whole.


  • 9" X 12" pieces of construction paper--enough for each student desk in the classroom
  • 1 marker per student (non-permanent)
  • Questioning Photos --you just need one set cut apart; I mounted mine on construction paper and then laminated them.  There are 10 pages to this set.  Make sure to click on the arrows to see all of the photos.
  • music (I pulled up "Happy" by Kidz Bop on youtube because that song just makes me smile).
  • Question Stems Poster
  • Questions Have Clout! Worksheet - 1 per student
  • book titled Citizen Scientist (I bought my copy off of for $10)  It has great relevant information that the kids just love!  The book has four sections--Fall Butterflying, Winter Birding, Spring Frogging and Summer Ladybugging.  It describes how adult scientists and children volunteer scientists do their jobs in these areas and they could possibly take part in scientific activities.



5 minutes

First I write a big question mark on the Smartboard.  I ask the students what they think it has to do with science.  

I ask "Why do people ask questions?  Someone answers, "Because they don't understand something."  I answer, "Yes, you are right.  Scientists ask questions because they want to find an answer to something they don't yet know.  Those questions help guide their investigations. Today we are going to learn about asking and writing good questions."




10 minutes

For an exploration activity the children are going to get a chance to write questions.  I didn't prompt the children or give them question stems at this point since I want them to discover that for themselves.

Before the activity begins I lay out one piece of 9" X 12" construction paper on each table space.  I set out 6-8 Questioning Photos and 8 markers (non-permanent) at each table. Then I tell them how this activity was going to work.  

"In this activity I want you to try to think like a scientist and write questions that could possibly be answered by investigation.  I am going to play music and you are going to walk around the tables.  We are going to walk in the same way that a clock moves."

I walk around and show each table the direction that they are going to move in.  I even have the children practice walking around so I can see that they have the right idea.  

Then I continue,"When the music stops, you must walk over to the closest photo on the table.  Pick up the photo and study it for a moment and place it back on the table. Then grab the marker and write a question relating to the photo right on the paper that is on the table.  Do not copy a question that someone else has asked previously about that photo.  If you end up at the same photo, that's okay, just write a different question.  Does anyone have any questions about the directions?"    

After everyone is clear about how the activity works, we begin to play the game.  I turn my music on and they walk around.  In a way, it kind of reminds me of musical chairs.  When the music stops, they walk to the nearest photo and write a question.  It is fun watching their excitement!  I have a rambunctious class, so this activity is perfect for them--some movement but a focus on learning. I give them about a 1 minute to look at the photo, think of a question and write it down (see photo A , B and C ).  We repeat this about 10 times, just enough for them to get the flavor of the activity, but not so many times that it gets repetitive or boring (see video of kids writing questions).

Learning to ask and answer questions is an essential skill in every academic area.  It is a common thread throughout the NGSS and the Common Core.  Forming their own questions is an extremely important skill.  Click here to see more information about questioning.


30 minutes

I gather the children back in the corner.  

I ask "Was it hard writing questions? Do you have any tips for someone who had trouble?  Were there any words you found yourself repeating?  

They eventually come up with questioning stems--who, what, where, when, why, how and do.  I also bring out the Question Stems Poster to aid in our discussion.  I hold it up and tell the children this is a poster that will help remind us of how to start a good question.  This is a poster I will leave up for a simple reminder for them when they are writing questions.

We also discuss that scientists must ask questions that can be answered by scientific investigation.

"For example, if  I was observing a picture of children on a ferris wheel, I might ask how does the ferris wheel turn?  Or what makes the ferris wheel stable?  Both of those questions can be answered by a scientific investigation.  However, I would not ask, "What are the children's names?" That question cannot be answered by scientific investigation.  Let's practice thinking of some questions that scientists might ask."  

I show them the cover pictures from the book Citizen Scientists.  I point to the picture of a ladybug.  

If I were a scientist I might ask "Why do some ladybugs have two black spots and some have more?"  This is a question that could possibly be answered by studying ladybugs.  Here is another question--Do ladybugs eat leaves? Scientists could watch ladybugs and see what it eats in the wild.  I could also ask, "How do the antennae help the ladybug?" I could then study the ladybugs to see how the antennae help the ladybug."  

"Okay, now I want you to try it."  I show them the picture of the woodpecker.  A boy responds, "How does the woodpecker use its beak?"  I reply, "Yes that is a great question that could be answered by studying and watching woodpeckers."  Then a girl asked,"Why do some woodpeckers have a red head and others do not?" Again I praise them for the great questions.  We then move on to the photo of the frog.  "Can you think of any questions about the frog?"  A child answers,"How do they croak so loud?"  I reply, "That is a great question, and one I've wondered about myself.  Scientists could study recordings of the frog and the body of a frog to find out the answer."

Next I say, "We are going to read a book about some children who help scientists in real investigations."  

Then I read part of the book titled Citizen Scientists, from page 9-23.  The entire book is relevant and interesting from cover to cover, but I chose to highlight Chapter 1: Butterflying,  since it specifically talks about how questions help drive scientific study and this is the skill I am working on with them (page 17 is great).  

Note: This book is fascinating, but takes over an hour to read from cover to cover.  For today, I am only going to read one section, but I will definitely read the rest of the book later when we have more time.   


5 minutes

I have the children reflect on the part of the book that we read.  I want them to take their new learning about asking scientific type of questions and apply it.  I reread the section on page 17:

*How do the butterflies find the same wintering sites year after year?

*Why do butterflies that emerge in the fall behave so differently from butterflies that emerge in the summer?

*What signals the migrating butterflies to begin their journey, and what signals them to reverse it in the spring?

*How many of the butterflies survive the journey?

Isn't it amazing how scientists use questions to help guide their research?  I bet we can write some questions that could possibly lead to an investigation or study.

I hold up one of the photos that was previously out on the tables.

Let's practice one together. 

 Then we practice asking scientific questions about the photo. I then pass out the one photo and a paper titled Questions Have Clout! Worksheet to each child.  I chose to pass the photos out randomly to the children to save on time.  

We talk about the meaning of the word "clout" that it means to have a lot of power.  

Why do you think I titled this page "Questions Have Clout?"  

They answer that questions have a lot of power since it guides scientists in their studies.  

I ask the children to take a look at their photo.  I ask them to try to think of some great questions.  I have tell their  "turn and talk" partner some of their questions.  "Turn and talk" partners are children that I have previously paired together that sit by each other at the same table.  

I instruct them, "I would like you to write one scientific question down on the paper that could possibly lead to an investigation or study, about the photo you were given.  Remember that your question should be one that could be answered by scientific investigation.  Who remembers what a question should end with?"  A girl answers, "I think it's called a question mark."  I respond, "Great job! Let's all remember to start with a capital letter and end with a question mark."

(See student Student Sample 1  and Student Sample 2).


5 minutes

I have the students hand in their papers so I can check them.  Here are the things I am looking for:


  1. Does the question make sense?  
  2. Could the question be answered by investigation?  
  3. Does the question begin with a capital letter and end with a question mark?  
  4. Does the question begin with one of the question stems? 



I have a chart with each child's name on it and the indicators above listed at the top.  I mark each column as noted:

  • 0 = did not meet
  • check = completed standard satisfactorily 
  • + = showed above level skills


If children score a 0 on any of the skills, I make note.  Then I form small groups and pull them aside to reteach and work with them in the needed area.