Student-Generated Inquiry-Based Questions

Support students to generate their own questions to increase engagement and build background knowledge
120 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

The Student-Generated Inquiry Questions strategy is a student-centered approach to developing deeper questions around a specific topic. After the teacher identifies a new topic of study to students, students participate in a whole-class discussion to generate questions they have around the topic. Students then choose one of the questions they want to research and learn more about.

Implementation Steps

30 minutes
  1. Present the students with a new topic that they will be learning about. Write the topic on the board or anchor chart.

  2. Lead a whole-group discussion and brainstorm around the topic with the goal of students generating questions about the topic that they would like to know the answer to. List the questions on the board or anchor chart as students ask the questions. The questions should not be answered, just generated and listed at this time.

    • Example: Topic - Atmosphere, Possible Student Question - How does the air pressure change as you climb a mountain?

    • Optional - If there is concern that students will struggle to come up with questions about a topic, consider launching the topic with a hook (i.e. a quick video about the topic that sparks interest, an article to read about the topic, an image, etc.).

    • To learn more about supporting students to generate their own research questions, explore the Connecting with Students' Communities strategy as well as the Strategic Education Research Partnership units of study resource in the Exploring Multiple Perspectives strategy in the BetterLesson Lab.

  3. Once the list of questions has been made, allow each student to choose a question that they want to focus on as their designated question.

Possible Extensions After Selecting the Question

  • Students will research information about their question, with the goal of becoming the "expert" for that question. This can take as long and be as in depth as the teacher desires.
  • Students will create a presentation about their research. Presentations can take on several forms:
    • Each student can present their findings to the class while the teacher scribes the information on the original anchor chart or white board where the questions were listed.
    • Each student can write what he or she learned about their specific research question on the original anchor chart or whiteboard where the questions were listed (see example in the resources)
    • Each student can create a poster with their question and answer, and then students can participate in a gallery walk to look at all of the presentations.

Supporting Students to Generate Inquiry Questions During Distance Learning

Students can generate inquiry-based research questions during synchronous distance learning time or asynchronously. 

Implementation Steps: 

1. Share a new topic with students during a synchronous distance learning session in the same way you would in steps 1 and 2 above. Consider using a virtual whiteboard (see video below) to record students' questions about the topic. You could also use a tool like Padlet (see video below) to write down students' ideas and questions. 

  • If you are not able to meet with students synchronously, this step can also be done during asynchronous distance learning. You could record a video of yourself using a tool such as screencastify or record a screencast directly in flipgrid (see video tutorial below) explaining the topic. Then students could generate a list of questions they have about the topic using a tool such as flipgrid or padlet. 

2. Have students share the question that they would like to research with you via a tool such as a simple googleform (see video below) or by having them record a video using a tool such as flipgrid (see video below) to share the question they would like to research and an explanation for why they are most interested in that particular question. 

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Student-Generated Inquiry-Based questions are excellent avenues to help engage and learners with disabilities who may struggle with traditional classroom learning strategies.  Having these learners play an active part in determining research questions can help build more investment in the research process overall.

Having learners generate inquiry-based requires developed writing skills, verbal communication skills and executive functioning skills (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.).  In order to support learners with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas consider the following modifications:


  1. For students with disabilities that affect their verbal expression, provide the topic ahead of time and allow them to write out their thoughts or questions before starting the whole class discussion.  During the discussion, repeatedly ask them to refer to what they have written as their pre-work to use as a resource.
  2. Provide students with question words and/or a list of vocabulary from the unit to guide their question writing. See the "Adapting Curriculum to Make PBL Accessible to All Learners" resource in the resource section below.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Generating questions allows English learners to engage in all domains of language: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Learners will benefit from the guided practice and group participation this strategy provides. 

English learners are required to develop and communicate questions based on what they hear. Learners are further asked to perform research by reading and present their findings in writing. In order to support English Learners consider these modifications:


  1. Provide English learners a set of strong question stems to reference when they are generating questions. Allow students time to write a draft question before sharing verbally. When soliciting questions, encourage the use of the question stems. Consider posting question stems visibly on the wall and practicing them chorally with the whole class. See the Academic Functions Toolkit in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Ensure learners comprehend the topic presented and its context. Consider previewing the topic and/or context in advance, e.g., use of a video during topic presentation, or partnering with English learners’ specialist to do so as part of ESL class. 

  3. Provide comprehensible research content. English learners at all proficiency levels will require text or other media in a form they can understand in order to apply the skill. Curating a list of sources that you know will contain information that is written or spoken in language English learners can decipher will allow them to focus on the task. Consider providing video content in particular for English learners at lower levels of proficiency. Consider partnering with English learners’ specialist for sources designed for speakers of other languages and/or creating space in ESL class for research. (See Resource: Research and Bilingual Content Sources for English Learners.)

  4. Provide familiar graphic organizers and/or models of final products. 

Tech Tools


  1. Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to gather information or reflections. Teachers can easily access each students' Padlet with a shared link.

  2. Padlet supports this strategy as a digital whiteboard or anchor chart where students can post their questions around the topic to generate research questions around the topic.