Using Different Questions to Increase Student Engagement

Engaging Inquiry: Bring Students to the Table with Different Types of Questions

In a previous blog post on why games work, we shared our three learner-engagement tenets from our book, The Quest for Learning.

In this blog post, we’d like to revisit Learning Tenet One:

The learner engages with relevant, worthy inquiries and experiences that are interesting or emotionally gripping.

The teacher might think a topic worthy, but without conversation or negotiation with students, the topic may not be as worthy as the teacher thought. We want students to make connections to themselves or the things that matter to them and give them some leeway in the pursuit of their interests. This is where student motivation lives, and as teachers, we are actively looking to spark curiosity, creativity, and quality work.

  • What is it that will matter to the student enough for them to eagerly learn, aggressively pursue, and persevere through to reach their learning goals?
  • How do we inspire passion for learning within our students?

We want students to see that their learning is a valid investment of their energy, by inviting them into their learning as valued voices. While inquiry has been a classroom staple for centuries, bringing in student voices doesn’t always happen. When teachers shift their thinking from “questioning for students” to “questioning with students,” magic starts happening in the classroom. Students grow into curious explorers who take their own actions to learn rather than simply being receivers of content.

To help students have buy-in while still meeting the learning goals that the teacher frames, we invite you to consider the following question types:


Essential Questions Promote inquiry in a topic, skill, or concept. The teacher is responsible for designing these questions because the teacher knows what must be addressed in the curriculum.


  • How does trade affect people?
  • What communities am I a part of?
  • What makes a complex society complex?
Driving Questions These questions guide research and actions. These are student-generated questions that are related to the Essential Questions. These question types help students own their learning and let them bring their interests into the system.


  • Inspired by the Essential Question, “How do living things get energy?”
    • What is photosynthesis?
    • How do plants get energy from the sun in places where it rains a lot?
  • Inspired by the Essential Question, “What makes a complex society complex?”
    • How did ancient civilizations use the land?
    • Why did nomads decide to settle rather than roam?
Probing Questions Probing Questions help students make sense of information or results. Teachers and/or students may generate these questions, and they are meant to support students by helping them to examine their work, their assumptions, their evidence, or their trajectory toward their learning goals.


  • Did you think about investigating X, Y, or Z?
  • Do you see a pattern here?
  • What evidence did you find to support your claim or question?
  • Can you look at this another way?
Reflection Questions These questions encourage students to think about their work and what they have learned. These questions could be designed by the teacher or the student and are meant to help students monitor how they feel about their progress and their accomplishments.


  • How did you revise your writing to make sure you were saying what you meant to say?
  • Does your conclusion or solution make sense?
  • What did you learn about yourself during this project that you can use to positively impact your next project?

To learn more about inquiry in the classroom and using inquiry as a contemporary curriculum design lens, please check out our book, The Quest for Learning, now available from Solution Tree.

Marie Alcock

Marie Alcock is a consultant specializing in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment design. She has spent the last 20 years working in public and private education as a teacher, administrator, and public advocate.

Michael Fisher

Michael Fisher is a former teacher who is now a full-time educational consultant and instructional coach. He has worked with schools across the United States, as well as Canada, China, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Allison Zmuda

Allison Zmuda is an education consultant specializing in curriculum, assessment, and instruction. She works with national and international educators to design learning experiences that are relevant, meaningful, challenging, and appropriate.

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