The Powerful Questions technique is used to build comprehension, inferential thinking, listening skills, understanding, and interest. Either an object or image are used as the focal point for questions. After the object or image have been revealed, the students initially observe the object or image, then share questions from their observations. This technique develops inquiry skills while enhancing observation abilities. It is important that no questions are answered during the exercise. Ultimately quality questions frame deeper understanding. The questions can be written down and then sorted into categories by the students to use with a shared inquiry discussion.
The selection of the object should connect with the content. An example if the focus of study was water resources, recycling, or similar, a common object connecting like above could be an excellent priming object.
The choice of an image as an entry to the focus of study should connect to develop the inquiry. The image above could connect to social justice, grass root movements or similar.
The video above, from the movie Castaways, could be used as a priming vehicle for persistence, survival, focus or similar.
Either an object or an image work well for this exercise. When presenting an object refer to it as a common object (or similar generic term). This stimulates enhanced observation skills, especially when an object might be several different things. With an image or photograph, it is best to choose one that has some unknown to it (e.g. a half built igloo – is it being built or taken apart?). It is an excellent tool to use an image from a text or book that is being studied as an introduction. Newspapers are also an excellent source of images which becomes an excellent anticipatory set prior to reading the article.
Order of Technique
State you will be shown a common object (or image) which everyone ask questions about. The object and/or photo should connect with what is being studied to provide interest and curiosity. Initially they will be shown the object (or image) and quietly observe it. The students could closely gather around the object, the teacher could be walking around the room, or each small group could have one of the objects or images. The students are informed we will only ask questions—they then start presenting their questions. It is best the teacher doesn’t repeat the questions, instead having the students repeat their own questions so the focus is on them while they hone their presentation skills. They will be able to see the object or image throughout the time they are sharing questions.
If the object or image is something they are studying, the questions might be recorded on poster paper. In higher grades two students would write the questions and in lower grades the teacher would write the questions. The person(s) who asked each question might also be noted next to their question to honor them when using the questions during a later study and/or shared inquiry.
The teacher never provides answers and only occasionally asks a question themselves. They might ask a question to offer a new direction, different frame of reference or a deeper extension. e.g. about the perspective of who took the photograph or who invented/designed an object. Reread all the presented questions to that point several times during Powerful Questions. This recap honors the presented questions while stimulating ideas for deeper inquiry.