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4 Ways to Motivate Students to Inquire

Consider a colossal beach ball. Roll it around, toss it in the air, experiment with it, and then return it to the starting point. At least one point on the ball remains precisely where it was before your actions. That’s pretty cool, huh? What makes you wonder?

This is a fundamental property of linear algebra, which I presented to my students to begin our lesson on eigenvalues. They began to ask questions following the demonstration—brilliant questions! Their inquiries anticipated what we would learn in the class and even delved into profound existential concepts in mathematics. I promptly grabbed a poster and began writing down all of their questions, thrilled. As the unit progressed, we returned to their questions and discovered that we had acquired sufficient knowledge to address a good portion of them. This maintained my students’ excitement and engagement. Additionally, they retained the knowledge because they were invested in obtaining the solutions.

As educators, we endeavor to make our students’ content relevant. Relevance motivates students and enables them to use the newly acquired knowledge in circumstances relevant to their daily life. By allowing students to ask questions about the information, we empower them to make such connections. Their inquiries instantly connect them to what they are learning on a personal level.

Related: 4 Ways to Motivate Students to Inquire


Teachers gain insight into pupils’ past understanding of a subject when they ask questions. Their queries reveal what they know and assist us in determining the optimal level of difficulty. Students withdraw when confronted with work that is beyond their capability and becomes bored when confronted with work that is too simple. Their inquiries frequently show precisely where they are.

Additionally, student responses assist us in categorizing students according to their interests. Their musings reveal areas of the topic that they wish to delve deeper into. We can empower students to channel their energy into their passions, hence increasing motivation and knowledge transfer.

There is reason to assume that when students ask questions at the start of a new topic or unit, they will improve their ability to learn and retain the knowledge. They seek answers as they learn, which keeps their minds active and eager to absorb new information. In Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning is the act of anticipating an answer, activates a region of the brain that assists us in forming deeper, more durable memories.

With these advantages in mind, how can we foster a culture of inquiry and encourage students to ask more questions?


1. Provide provocative prompts: When confronted with anything startling or unusual, our natural inclination is to be intrigued. This was demonstrated during the beach ball problem in my linear algebra lesson. Additionally, I have given surprise mathematical results, intriguing data sets, open math problems, news headlines, incorrect proofs, and historical applications of math in different cultures to elicit inquiry. However, thought-provoking prompts can be found in any discipline. Consider political cartoons, popular (suitable) YouTube or TikTok videos, surprising scientific discoveries, and songs, among other things.

2. Honors each inquiry: When kids raise questions, acknowledge their efforts! By halting class and having the student repeat the question to the group, I try to create a big deal out of smart questions. Following that, we have a class discussion. On index cards, we record their inquiries and display them on the “I Wonder” wall. My students take delight in being included on the wall.

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3. Transform inquiries into teachable moments: In my statistics class, a student had an issue with the way data was presented in an article we were reading. The entire class examined it, and we attempted to recreate the presentation using only the raw data. It prompted me to explain two-way frequency tables and conditional probability, a subject I had been putting off for weeks. The lesson stuck because it was pertinent at the time.

4. Assist students in developing more effective questioning strategies: Self-assessment as a model. When I present a prompt to students, I encourage them to participate in the question-asking process. They observe my inquisitiveness and are motivated to inquire further. Additionally, they begin to realize the types of questions we can ask, which provides them with other possibilities.

Developing a culture of curiosity and wonder does not require additional time in your curriculum or the implementation of an entirely inquiry-based paradigm in your classroom. Simply provide an inspirational prompt every now and then and allow pupils’ curiosity to run wild. If the prompt is relevant to your topic and you can expand on it, that is fantastic! If not, you can still stimulate students’ creativity. This demonstrates to them that a school is a place where inquiries are encouraged and are a vital part of learning.

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