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Questioning Toolkit

If You Do Not Ask Questions, You Will Not Know . . .

We are fortunate to live in a society that supports freedom of speech and freedom of access to information.  However, we work and play in a complex and often disorganized world of information. 

In order to become effective users of information and ideas, we must become skilled at asking different questions in different ways.  Different types of questions give you different types of information.  In order to get the information you need, you must know how to ask the question. 

This is very important when looking at information to help you make a decision or solve a problem.

Here Are Some Different Ways To Ask Questions

Probing Questions

These give us details and facts.  They do not require a great deal of time to answer, and they are easy to double-check for accuracy.  They might begin with who, what, when, where, do you, will you, etc. 

  1. Are you required by law to attend school?

  2. Have we yet discovered life on other planets?

  3. Does a bacteria or virus cause Polio?

Essential Questions

These are the big picture, big idea, or main idea questions.  They typically cover more than one subject area, and they take a longer time to answer.  We often refer to them as open-ended because you could write the answer all day long, and then think of something else to add the next day!  And the next!  These give complex us answers.  Don’t ask your parents an essential question when they are in a hurry or stressed out because a hasty or short answer to one of these is usually not very satisfactory.

  1. Why are we required to go to school?

  2. How would we know if life ever existed on Mars?

  3. Since our bodies are always covered with bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic organisms, why are we not all dead or dying?

Hypothetical Questions

In science, a hypothesis is an educated guess about the nature of our world.

Hypothesis = educated + guess

Remember!  No one cares about your guess alone.  What is more important is why you are making that guess:  the educated part.  What do you know already that takes you to this guess?

Hypothetical questions are What if questions.  We really cannot answer them exactly until the event actually happens.  To answer them, we look at what we know about the topic (educated) and make predictions (guess) about what the answer will be.  We use past experiences to answer these questions.

  1. What if we were no longer required to go to school?

  2. What if we discovered living microorganisms on our next exploration of Mars?

  3. What if there was a virus that destroyed the human immune system?

Irreverent Questions

These are the Saturday Night Live and Mad TV questions.  News reporters use these in their daily work, as do lawyers in court.  Your parents use them as well.  They are meant to catch you on-the-spot so that you do not have time to clean up your answer.  They are short and to the point.  These questions might be embarrassing, and you usually wish you had some time to think of a good answer.  Body language, audience, and tone of voice are important, making the difference between a probing and an irreverent question.

  1. Did you skip school today?

  2. Do you believe in UFOs?

  3. Did you wash your hands before you picked that up?

Sorting and Sifting Questions

These questions help us deal with the large amount of information we run into daily, or while doing research of any kind.  They help us figure out what is worth paying attention to, what should be thrown out, and which is related to what.  They help us stay focused on the problem or issue.

  1. Which of these absences are related to truancy?

  2. Will this information help us understand the unlikelihood of finding life on Mars?

  3. Which of these bacteria cause diseases in humans?

Clarification Questions

These questions help us understand confusing and unclear information.  They help us understand if the information is reliable or not.  They help us judge the quality of the information we are looking at.  They question how the information was gathered, or where the information came from.

  1. How much do we know about the economic success of high school dropouts?

  2. How will NASA collect samples from Mars without endangering Earth?

  3. How do we know that these bacteria are not harmful to humans?

Unanswerable Questions

These questions help us understand when we have reached the limit of our understanding.  They show us where we have holes in our information.  They help us realize we need to take a new approach to the problem.

  1. What is the value of life?

  2. What is life?

  3. How would life be different if our skin was poisonous?