Developed by the Right Question Institute, the Question Formulation Technique, or QFT, is a structured method for generating and improving questions. It distills sophisticated forms of divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking into a deceptively simple, accessible, and reproducible technique.
The QFT builds the skill of asking questions, an essential — yet often overlooked — lifelong learning skill that allows people to think critically, feel greater power and self-efficacy, and become more confident and ready to participate in civic life.
Students use the QFT in a humanities classroom in Boston.
Groups of parents work together to generate questions.
The steps of the QFT are designed to stimulate three types of thinking: divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and metacognitive thinking.
Each step of the process can be a learning experience on its own. But the real power of the QFT comes when all steps — and all three thinking abilities — work together.
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 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:
Avoid naming or telling participants the difficulties or value of the rules. Let them think about it themselves.
Notice how producing questions is just one relatively quick step in the QFT process. To get the most depth and nuance out of the QFT, use all the steps.
In this step, 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 …”
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.)
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:
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.
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