How Good Are These Questions?

Classes which focus on inquiry frequently require students to identify a question they want to answer and then go about answering it. However, not all questions are created equal. Often, students need guidance and practice identifying the kinds of questions that are worthy of formal inquiry.

In this exercise, students are given some sample questions and asked to evaluate them according to given criteria. Using small groups for this exercise can make the process more collaborative and enjoyable.

Provide students with some sample questions of varying quality relevant to your course theme. For example, "Why do some children apparently become violent after watching violent cartoons while others seem to be unaffected?" 

Then ask students to rate the question on a 1 - 10 scale for each of the following criteria:

  • INTERESTING: the question is both relevant to the course theme and personally significant and compelling to the asker
  • ANALYTICAL: the question leads to answers that cannot be descriptive but require balanced consideration of evidence and opinions. (Often we asked students to ask "Why" questions)
  • PROBLEMATIC: the question is based in a contradiction, puzzle or dilemma
  • COMPLEX: the question has more than one realistic possible answer
  • IMPORTANT: the question is either publicly argued (controversial) or its answer would have some real effect on the world
  • GENUINE: the question is something that the asker really wants to answer but presently cannot, as opposed to a question which the asker assumes the answer to and wants to prove
  • RESEARCHABLE: there is evidence that pertains to it (as opposed to, for example, "Why does God not answer prayers?")

In follow-up discussion, explore differences in ratings that students gave to each question, and how the question might be improved to become a question more 


Justice, C., Rice, J., Warry, W., Inglis, S. Miller, S. and Shannon, S. (2007), Inquiry in higher education: Reflections and directions on course design and teaching methods. Innovative Higher Education, 31(4). 201-214.