Poet ee cummings wrote, “Always the beautiful answer/who asks a more beautiful question.” If you want to help your students learn to ask beautiful questions, try playing The Question Game with them. With enough encouragement and practice, students will develop the ability (and courage) to ask high-level questions in all of their courses.  As their skill at creating questions improves, students will begin to accurately predict the questions their instructors will ask on examinations, and their test scores and grades will improve. The Question Game is also great to play as a pre-writing exercise before students compose an essay or term paper; you’ll likely find that the subsequent writing will be more interesting and take the topic to new depths.  

To start the game, write on the board or overhead any topic related to your course or workshop, such as “grammar,” “percent,” “success,” “graduation requirements,” “neurosis,” “government,” or “community.” Ask students to ask open-ended questions about the topic you have defined, and write a list of them on the board. Any question is acceptable as long as it is open-ended and has not been asked before. The game is over when the next student cannot offer a related open-ended question without repeating one already asked (or you run out of time).  

STUDENT GENERATED QUESTIONS: For example, the topic could be “success”:

Student 1: Why is it important to have success?

Student 2: How is the definition of success different in other countries?

Student 3: How can someone be happy without being successful?

Student 4: What part do parents play in determining a child’s level of success?

Student 5: What would happen if the word “success” were eliminated from the dictionary?

Student 6: How can I be successful in this class?

Student 7: Who is the most successful person you know and why?

Student 8: What is the most successful civilization in history and why?

Student 9: How do your friends define “success”?

Student 10: If you were fully successful, what would you have accomplished?

INSTRUCTOR GENERATED QUESTIONS: After students have created a long list of questions, you can begin to draw out life lessons from the experience they have just participated in.  Questions for processing the Question Game:

1. How did you feel during the game?

2. Did your emotions change during the game? If so, why?

3. How comfortable are you asking questions in this course? Other courses? Why?

4. What could you do to feel more comfortable asking questions in any course?

5. Which question in the list we made is the most “beautiful” and why?

6. What are the characteristics of a “beautiful” question?

7. What are some questions you have about the content of this course?

8. What do you think are the most important questions in this (or another) course?

9. What questions do you anticipate being on the final exam in this (or another) course?

10. What did you learn or relearn while playing The Question Game?

One option for processing the Question Game:

Pick a question (either Student Generated or Instructor Generated) and ask everyone to write an answer. (2 min)

Put students in pairs (pair/share) to discuss the answers they wrote. (5 min)

Have each pair join another pair (pair/square) and each student tells the new pair his/her partner’s answer. (10 min)

Choose students at random to share their answer with the entire group and lead a discussion of the answers. (5-30 min, depending upon the number of students you call upon to share)

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshops, Skip@OnCourseWorkshop.com

Forum Image OptionThe Question Game Forum