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Teach Students Self-Questioning for Better Learning

Self-questioning is an important learning strategy. Students need to learn to ask themselves questions before starting a new unit of study, when doing homework, and when studying for tests. These questions can lead to a deeper understanding that is easier to recall later. Here is how it works.

When starting a new unit of study, ask: What part of this do I already know? How does this relate to other things I have studied before? Why do I need to learn this? These questions lend new meaning to the topics and help to assimilate the concepts into long term memory. New learning must be “hooked” onto something else you already know. By thinking about the answers to these questions, you can more quickly see those relationships. Understanding why something is important to learn helps motivate you to stay focused and to keep trying to understand the concepts—even when they are difficult.

When doing homework, ask: Do I understand this question? Should I refer to my book or notes? Should I add more detail? Is this my best work? Understanding the question and knowing where to search for the answer are the most important steps when doing homework. I encourage my students to reflect the question in their answer. (For example, if the question is, “What is your name?” You would answer, “My name is Livia.”) Most students do not add enough detail to their homework answers. Usually, this is accomplished by adding extra information or examples to support the answer.  (“My name is Livia. I was named after my mother’s favorite actress, Olivia de Havilland. She was in Gone With the Wind.”) By adding detail, you can truly do better work, and thus say, “Yes!” to the last question.

When studying for a test, ask: Do I understand this concept? How do these topics relate to one another? How do they relate to other things I have learned? How will I know if I understand this? Sometimes, creating a web is a great way to figure out all the relationships within a unit. You can’t create the web unless you understand what the relationships are. Often after the web is finished, you have studied enough and are ready to take the test!

Using questions to guide learning is a powerful tool. The questions can lead you to understand concepts at a much deeper level and thus remember them later. It can also help you to apply the learning in new situations which is the true test of learning.

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