Want to find a way? Keep asking questions.

"I suppose I ought to eat or drink something or other; 
but the great question is, what?"
Lewis Carroll (1865), “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

“That is a very good question!” the phrase we hear in response and the phrase that, due to my current research interest, recently has started attracting my attention. While my research is on questions asked by teachers in class, thinking about the ways and reasons for query is a skill that can guide every student when reading, listening, and working on a research project. Unlike other posts of mine, this one is not aimed at building or proposing an argument, rather giving a recommendation, as some resources related to my project, ultimately, can be of relevance for those involved in research in general.

The significance of asking questions was acknowledged long before our century. The works by Plato appraised Socrates’s teaching skills to use questions to guide learners in solving some geometric problems. Similar technique, recognized now as “Socratic method”, used (we know from Plato) to interrogate his opponents in public debates on moral principles. He was acting as a person knowing a little about the issue and constantly responding with questions. The Socratic method is, basically, asking a person, you are in dialogue with, a series of questions and follow up questions (Stenning et al., 2016). This can be very frustrating, for both, the person asking and the person answering the question: even a few questions might reveal that you do not know much about the topic. However, the realization that you may be lacking some knowledge on the area of your interest can be motivating for learning it deeper. Thus, ask as many possible question on your topic before you arrive at the most important one.

Once, you are clear with what you are going to research, you have two option to lead you through the process: “the sponge” and “panning for gold” principles (Browne & Keeley, 2007, p. 3). While the first is passive in nature, the second is more engaging and involves asking questions. I think you would prefer positioning yourself as active learners. Browne & Keeley (2007) suggest “[t]o make this choice, you must read with a special attitude—a question asking attitude…The writer is trying to speak to you, and you should try to talk back to him, even though he is not present” (Browne & Keeley, 2007, p. 4). This means asking every single material questions, such as, What is my conclusion? Why would I believe in what someone is trying to convince me? Posing questions to yourself leads to better understanding the topic and providing further directions for your work.

To conclude, the readings suggest that there are no right or wrong questions and there are no bad and good answers, as long as they are related to your topic. Keep asking questions and, more importantly, looking for the answers. This strategy will help you in making right decisions for your project.

Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S. M. (2007). Asking the right questions: a guide to critical thinking (8th ed.).  New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.



5 thoughts on “Want to find a way? Keep asking questions.

  1. Dear Aigul,

    Thank you for your post! During my school years, I did not often ask questions to my teachers. I think teachers did not encourage this practice and students usually avoided asking questions even if something was not clear. Later I changed my opinion on this and understood that asking questions will not characterize someone as a poor student. Actually asking questions from teachers and peers help us to develop our knowledge. I have learned a lot from my group mates and we keep learning from each other by sharing our experiences and knowledge. I like the idea that “there are no right or wrong questions and there are no bad and good answers”. Teacher should repeat these words to students to build a productive interaction in class.


  2. Some questions can be annoying though. I have one student in a class I teach who just can’t stop asking question. Most of them are totally “out of the blue”. I did actively encourage questions from the students when this class first started (as I normally do), but now I feel as if I opened a Pandora’s box. I dread the moment I have to say: “any questions?”, as this triggers an avalanche of interesting, but tangential to the topic questions. I feel bad for cutting him off, but I have to because other students get annoyed too. Do you have a tip on how to curb a student’s inquisitiveness, or rather focus it on the right topic?


  3. Because the post was not designed to provoke a discussion, I am grateful, @alinatatiyeva and @chsherbakov, that you stopped for commenting on it. The point here is asking yourself questions, and I am sorry if the blog does not clearly signal that. But I agree that asking right questions to your teacher or peers is a good way to understand a topic. Which questions are right is another issue that, due to time constraints, I didn’t manage to cover in the blog (may be next time?). Definitely, right questions are those demonstrating that you are interested in the topic and that you want to know more about it, provided you are a good listener. I also think students need to be explicitly instructed how to ask such questions, at least at a lower education level.

    “Out of the blue” or “look-I-am-here” questions are very common in my teaching practice too, @chsherbakov. May be simply changing to “Any questions ON the TOPIC” would help? Or, sometimes I answer with another question, For example, “I am glad you are interested, but how is it related to the what we are discussing? Or, to avoid other students’ annoyance, “Let us discuss it later, now we want to hear what you want to know more about…?” Acknowledging that the student is at least courageous enough to ask a question by thanking him/her would help, if we do not want to sound a little aggressive.


  4. aigulizat, it is such a soft and inspiring post! However, I find it difficult sometimes to ask a lot of questions while reading because as I skim the text I hardly stop anywhere to have a discussion with the author. And if I like the text I tend to agree with the author without asking much too. So, asking questions is not always easy. Do you use this strategy all the time?


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