14. Key Words and Question Stems
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Students can learn to distinguish between questions by stems which can be listed on a classroom chart. They quickly discover the difference between "how," "what," "when," or "where" as opposed to "why," "what if," "suppose" and "in what ways might". Teachers may then request that students formulate questions with certain stems.
Sometimes questions which start with "why" are fairly easy, at other times, they are unanswerable. What makes the difference? Ask students to propose a reason for the varying difficulty of "why" questions.
As students speculate about the answers to these questions, they will refinetheir use of the tools they know and exercise their muscles as tool shapers and tool makers.
One way to judge the quality of a question stem is how many answers it creates. A question stem such as:
could cause unending discussion exploring the nuances of each. Challenge students to make up questions using a stem that starts the flow of ideas. The longer the ideas keep flowing, the better the question stem was. Try one like the following:
"Just suppose John A. MacDonald was not interested in creating a National Canada . What would have happened differently?"
You can convert most textbook-type questions into thought-provoking ones using the SuperThink strategies described in a book by that name (Davis, 1981, DandyLion Press).
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