What makes a good Big Question

Big Questions can be make or break for a SOLE. A good question that students want to answer means that students will be excited and engaged. It basically removes the need to manage groups, because kids genuinely want to know the answer. However, that means the opposite is also true-- a bad question can mean kids are bored, uninterested, and basically makes a teacher’s day miserable. Luckily, it’s not too hard to come up with a really great question-- it just takes some reflection, and usually some input from your students.

A big question needs to be open ended. If your question has a simple answer, students will figure it out in two minutes, plan their presentation, and then need to be managed for the majority of your class. Students need to be able to find multiple perspectives, to argue with each other, to come to a conclusion on their own. Anything simpler, and it’s an intro question, not a SOLE.
A big question needs to be interesting. Tying questions into a student’s interests is the easiest way to do it-- one of my most successful SOLE questions was “Could Wolverine exist in real life?” I still can’t believe what students came up with-- some researched how genes replicate and mutate, some researched about how our bodies heal, one group found a scientific article about a frog that breaks its own bones and forms claws when threatened (that last one really creeped me out, but the students were into it, so I just had to deal with my heebie-jeebies while they discussed it for the rest of the day). But for that day, I didn’t have to do much work-- students were on task, working, and any attempts to offer help were met with “Miss, we got this.”

It doesn’t need superheroes to be interesting to students though; anything that they’re curious about is enough. I’ve found there are two easy ways to make sure kids are into your questions-- the first (and easiest) is just to ask them. I would normally come up with a couple questions that were relevant to my topic and then ask their opinions. If they didn’t like any, we worked together to come up with a new one.

Another option is to let students create their own. I know many teachers who use SOLE have a “SOLE wall” where students can write questions they’re wondering about, and then other students can put checks next to them if they’re also interested. Some of the most interesting questions I’ve heard were student created-- things like “could we still hear if our ear was square?” For higher grades, I would give them a topic I wanted to work around-- for instance, when I told them I wanted to do a SOLE around the Jim Crow laws, a student created the question “How do the Jim Crow laws still affect us today?” It’s almost exactly what I wanted to talk about, but this ensured that it was phrased in a way that interested them, and also gave them ownership over the SOLE.

Not every question I ever did was great. Teaching five classes a day, there were several times that I changed my question before each class, just because it wasn’t as successful as I wanted. I’ve found that to really have a great question, I needed input-- whether that was from a student or a trusted colleague depended on the day. I know other teachers who don’t need that input; they’re creative and have a natural knack for it. However, if you need help creating a question, please feel free to reach out to me at erikahoward91@gmail.com-- I’m happy to help you decide on a question and a phrasing that will be best for your students. In addition, there are many questions on the SOLE app that you can use-- in which case, all the work is done for you! Remember, the question is the heart of your SOLE; a bad one makes for a long day, but a really great one means your students will be engaged and learning at a level that’s hard to even imagine. What makes a good Big Question.

Erika Howard 



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