The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a simple but rigorous step-by-step process created by the Right Question Institute to help all people — students and adults — formulate, work with, and use their own questions.
The QFT combines three thinking abilities in one process: divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and metacognitive thinking.
It doesn’t matter how much formal education you have. Adults and students can use the QFT to help navigate complex situations, participate in decisions, engage with the democratic process, and enjoy lifelong learning. In the classroom, it helps students become more curious and engaged learners. It’s not a detour from teaching goals. Rather, it’s a shortcut to student-directed, deeper learning.
Using the QFT with students
We recommend watching this video of students using the QFT in a high school humanities classroom in Boston. We have videos of the QFT being used in other grade levels and subjects, as well.
Using the QFT with adults
In this video, groups of parents work together to generate questions about students and schools. It provides a quick step-by-step guide to using the QFT in a group setting. Here are other videos of adults using the technique.
Design a Question Focus (QFocus)
The QFocus is a stimulus for jumpstarting questions. It is the focus of question formulation. The QFocus may be a statement, phrase, image, video, aural aid, math problem, equation, or anything else that gets the questions flowing. It may not be a question, and it should be related to the content or intended learning outcomes. A good QFocus should be simple and clear, and it should encourage divergent thinking.
Introduce the Rules
Introduce the four essential rules for producing questions:
Remind people to follow the rules each time you use the technique.
Give instructions to think about the rules, and let participants — whether they’re students or adults — discuss one of the following:
• What might be difficult about following the rules for producing questions?
• Which rule might be most difficult to follow?
Avoid naming or telling participants the difficulties or value of the rules. Let them think about it themselves.
Introduce the Question Focus & Produce Questions
Present the QFocus without any additional information, keeping explanation to a minimum.
Following the rules, participants make a list of questions using the QFocus as the focus for their questions. Number each question (1, 2, 3, etc.) This step helps people think divergently.
Participants work with the questions they produced. This step helps people do high-level work with their questions and identify how different types of questions elicit different types of information and answers.
Questions can be open- or closed-ended: Closed-ended questions can be answered with yes, no, or with one word. Open-ended questions require an explanation and cannot be answered with yes, no, or with one word.
Categorize questions as closed-ended or open-ended. Participants find closed-ended questions and mark them with a “C.” They find open-ended questions and mark them with an “O.”
Discuss the value of each type of question. Identify advantages and disadvantages of closed-ended questions. Identify advantages and disadvantages of open-ended questions.
Change questions from one type to another. In other words, change one closed-ended question to an open-ended question. Then, change one open-ended question to closed-ended one.
Prioritization instructions should bring participants back to the central objective. This step helps participants think convergently. For students, prioritization instructions bring them back to teaching objectives and the plan for using student-generated questions. You can prioritize as many questions as you want. In our example, we’ve chosen to prioritize three questions.
Here are some examples of prioritization instructions: “Choose three questions that …”
• you consider most important
• will help with your research
• can be used for your experiment
• will guide your reading/ writing
• can be answered as you read
• will help you solve the problem
Participants should discuss and share why they selected their priority questions and where their priority questions fell in the sequence of their question list. (For instance, a group may decide to prioritize questions 6, 14, and 27 on their list.)
Discuss Next Steps
How will questions be used? Next steps should align with priority instructions. For students, this further contextualizes how their questions will be used.
Participants should reflect:
• What did you learn?
• How can you use what you learned?
This step helps people think metacognitively about how they used questions to learn. It allows them to reflect on new lines of thinking they may have developed.
General Tips for Facilitation
• The role of the QFT-leader is to facilitate the participants moving through the different steps of the QFT as simply as possible. We call this person the facilitator. In a classroom, the teacher is the one who facilitates the QFT.
• Monitor group work and give clarifying instructions as needed. Go around the room to observe group work and interactions during the process. Listen for the types of questions participants are asking. Try your best not to get pulled into their discussions. Avoid answering any questions while people are in the process of producing questions.
• Validate everyone’s contributions equally. Use the same words for all contributions. For example: “thank you” acknowledges contributions neutrally. Using different words to validate different contributions (e.g. good, great, excellent question) may discourage some people from participating.
• Avoid giving examples of questions participants should be asking. If you do, you will be setting the direction of the questions and impeding independent thinking.
• Allow groups to work at their own pace. It is okay if some groups produce more questions than others. If a group seems stuck, prompt them with the QFocus. For example, “Look at your QFocus and think about if there’s anything you would like to know about it and ask a question.” The value of producing questions is in the process of thinking and not in the number of questions produced.
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