05/17/2021 / Education

Question Formulation Technique

According to the creators of this technique, the Right Question Institute , the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), , "helps all people create, work with, and use their own questions — building skills for lifelong learning, self-advocacy, and democratic action". They have established rules and steps that "stimulate divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and metacognitive thinking".
 The first thing that needs to happen is to establish a "Q Focus", which could be a statement, phrase, image,  poem, math problem, equation, or anything else that prompts questions. What it can't be is a question, and it should relate to the intended learning outcomes. "A good Q focus should be simple and clear, and it should encourage divergent thinking." (Right Question Institute)

It is extremely important to introduce the rules as they are the catalyst for producing questions. They must be followed every time the QFT is used. The rules are: 

1. Ask as many questions as you can.
2. Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions.
3. Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
4. Change any statement into a question.

The students in my math class were put into groups. We provided each group with chart paper and different colored markers. A recorder was assigned, and after going over the rules, the students discussed the following questions: 

    What might be difficult about following the rules for producing questions?
  • Which rule might be most difficult to follow?

Next, they were given the Q Focus, a picture of Cuisenaire rods, and from there the groups began formulating questions based on what they saw and numbering the questions 1,2,3, etc.  Once done, then the groups worked with the questions they produced. They needed to decide whether each question is an open-question, further explanation needed, or a closed-question simply providing a yes or no answer. After a thorough discussion, the groups are then asked to change each question to the opposite type. For example, a closed-question needs to be reworded in order to become an open-ended question, and vice versa. Then the questions are prioritized. "This step helps participants think convergently. For students, prioritization instructions bring them back to teaching objectives and the plan for using student-generated questions. You can prioritize as many questions as you want." (Right Question Institute)

The groups then share what questions they prioritized and why, as well as sharing where the questions originally landed on their initial list. The next steps include how the questions will now be used, and finally a chance to reflect on the activity.

Recently, my colleague and I used the QFT with poetry using Jacqueline Woodson's poem "Poem Book" from her book Locomotion. Using the group approach, supplies previously mentioned, and a good review of the rules, the students explored the poem. I loved how they weren't simply "drilling and killing" the poem by repeated reciting. The poem was shared by two students, and then the groups got to work formulating questions and they considered each stanza and the narrator's choice of words.  One very important clue to realizing you've shared an engaging and interesting activity is when the students want to keep talking about it long after it's ended. We followed up a day later with another poem from the book entitled "List Poem" and the question formulation began again! 
The hard part as the teacher is keeping any explanation to a minimum. Our role is to facilitate and validate the students work using the same wording such as "thank you". "It is okay if some groups produce more questions than others. If a group seems stuck, prompt them with the QFocus. For example, “Look at your QFocus and think about if there’s anything you would like to know about it and ask a question.” The value of producing questions is in the process of thinking and not in the number of questions produced." (Right Question Institute).

The QFT can be used with all subject areas. While it may take some thinking outside of the box, I would highly recommend giving it a try. You will be amazed at how students develop as questioners.


Subscribe to Kathleen's Newsletter

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox

Kathleen Palmieri

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher, a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Learning Facilitator, and a fifth grade educator in upstate New York. She reviews professional texts and is an educator researcher and writer. As a writer with a passion for pedagogy, Kathleen's focus is on education practices, and strategies, as well as her own experiences as an educator. Educator well being is a priority, thus the name "Mindful Teaching Moments". Mindfulness along with knowledge is important. She has presented at math conferences, writing workshops, actively collaborates in literacy projects, and networks globally.