Productive questions

The most important thing when exploring nature together with children, is to let them make their own experiences at their own pace.

Once the exploring is well underway, you might ask questions to help the learning. These questions should be productive, in the sense that they:

  • Enhance attention and make the children observe 
    • Have you seen the eyes of the crab? 
    • How does the mud feel?
    • What does the teabag smell like? 
  • Encourage children to count and measure 
    • How many nuts do you have?
    • How big is the dough now?
    • How many spoons of baking soda do we need to make this volcano? 
  • Encourage children to compare and discover differences 
    • Do all the leaves look the same?
    • How are they different from each other? 
    • What is the difference between …?
  • Lead to further exploration
    • What happens if you hold a glass over a burning candle? 
    • What happens if you put an ice cube in the water?         
  • Formulate a problem 
    • How can you find out what the woodlouse eats? 
    • How canyou shape this clay in a way that it can be loaded with something in the water? 
  • Encourage children to come up with suggestions or hypotheses 
    • What do you think will happen to this glass of water if we leave it in the window for a few days?
    • Why do you think that? 
  • Encourage children to draw conclusions 
    • So we learned that magnets have a north and a south pole. What will happen if we put two north poles together? 
  • Encourage children to document and communicate 
    • How can you explain what you learned to Tom, who wasn’t here yesterday? 

(Elstgeest, 1996).  

In this mini-lecture, you can see how Oda Bjerknes uses productive questions in a talk with children about an earth worm:

Science talk about an earth worm

In this video math and science pedagogue Oda Bjerknes explains how she had a productive talk with children about a "broken" earth worm, in a way that led the children to explore and think further about a natural science topic they were interested in.