The Science and Engineering Practice of Asking Questions is foundational to science. In this post, find out what Asking Questions looks like in an elementary classroom. Also, find out why this is the most used practice in my class and why I always start the school year with this practice.
Asking questions is a foundational practice in science.
Science is the practice of systematically answering questions about the world around us. Students in an NGSS aligned classroom have the opportunity to act as scientists. They ask questions that they answer through investigation and observation using a discovery-based approach. To learn more about a discovery-based approach to learning, click here.
NGSS Asking Questions in Elementary
The Science and Engineering Practices are the same in kindergarten through twelfth grade. However, these practices progress in grade-level bands. Students in early elementary are becoming familiar with the practices. Then, upper elementary students begin to refine these processes.
Explicit instruction about how to ask a scientific question is essential. Don’t skip instruction here because you think your students already know how to ask questions. Often, students mistakenly believe that they should only ask questions if they don’t understand the content. However, asking questions demonstrates understanding, curiosity, and engagement.
In early elementary, kindergarten through second grade, student questions should be based on observations. Students may observe things that occur in nature or in the human-created world. Once students have made these observations, provide them with the opportunity to ask questions about what they have observed.
Also, allow your students to ask questions about things that can be investigated using the materials that you have in your classroom. Students in this grade level band are often inquisitive by nature. Allow them to ask all of their questions even if they are not investigative. Then, have the students determine which of these questions can be investigated.
This practice changes slightly in upper elementary. The emphasis is on distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific questions. When students ask questions, ask them to reflect on whether or note the question in scientific.
Also, students in this grade level band should start predicting reasonable answer or outcomes to their questions. Then, allow students to investigate the question and determine if their prediction is correct. Have students use on of the other practices to investigate their questions.
What are scientific questions?
Simply put, scientific questions are the ones that can be investigated. Students use their observations to answer these questions. In contrast, non-scientific questions are philosophical, rhetorical, or “yes/no” questions.
How do I introduce the practice of Asking Questions in my NGSS aligned elementary classroom?
As previously stated, this practice is fundamental in science. I start using this practice when I introduce my first phenomenon. Then, I explain that we will use their questions to build investigations and learn about the phenomenon.
Notice and Wonder Activities
When introducing your phenomenon, consider using a Notice and Wonder Activity. Have students observe your phenomenon. Then, ask students to write what they notice and wonder. Very young students can draw a picture about what they notice and wonder. To learn more about how I use Notice and Wonder activities, check out this post.
Asking Questions and Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Asking questions is often the first step in planning and carrying out investigations. To meet the full criteria of this practice, students need to be able to ask questions about what happens if a variable changes starting in third grade.
However, asking questions that are testable and asking questions about variables are two different skills. So, these do no have to be addressed at the same time. I suggest addressing these sub-components of the practice separately until students master both skills.
When should students ask questions in an NGSS aligned elementary class?
Allow students to ask questions at any time during your instructional sequence. However, I address this practice the first time that I introduce a phenomenon in my class.
Also, I create a space in my classroom for students to post questions that come up during the lesson sequence. I use these questions to improve my storylines. As questions arise in class, we add them to the question board.
Do you need resources for Asking Questions in an NGSS aligned Elementary Class?
I created this resource to help you with the practice of Asking Questions and Defining Problems in your elementary school classroom. This resource includes:
- In-depth teacher instructions
- Scientific vs. Non-Scientific Questions Reading and Activity
- Notice and Wonder Graphic Organizer
- Defining Problems Reading and Sample Problem
- Defining Problems Graphic Organizer
These activities are ready to be placed directly in your Google Classroom™. Google Slides™ and PDF versions are available in this resource.
Want to learn more about asking questions and defining problems in elementary?
- Using and Notice and Wonder Activity to Introduce Phenomena
- Podcast: How to Use Student Questions to Build Storylines
- Blog Post: How to Use Student Questions to Build Storylines