Try It Tuesday: Cultivate Curiosity

Children are naturally curious. If you've spent any time with a toddler or preschooler, you know that they have a million questions and want to know everything about the world around them. They learn, in part, because they are so intensely curious. 

As they get older, for a variety of reasons, that curiosity starts to die out. But if we want to help them stay in "learning mode," curiosity is key to their success. 

In this week's Try It Tuesday, we share some strategies for cultivating curiosity. 

1. Ask questions, rather than giving answers.

Most adults are eager to get to the answers when it comes to working with young people. We've "been there, done that" and we want to move quickly into imparting this important knowledge to children and teens. 

The engine of curiosity, though, is not answers. It's questions. Every discovery in the world started with a question and with someone being curious to learn more. 

Some ways to bring more questions into our work:

  • Start each lesson with a question, rather than with a topic. Instead of saying "We're going to be talking about leadership today," post a question like "What makes a good leader?" and begin the discussion there. 
  • Ask what they already know about a topic. Not only can this help you understand where teens are starting from, this can also be a good way to start generating some new questions to follow up on. 
  • Create a Question Wall--Post a large piece of flip chart paper somewhere in the room and call it the Question Wall. You and your students can continually add questions to the wall that you'd like to learn more about. These could be questions from class or from everyday life. You can spend time each day looking at and discussing the questions together. The idea is to get everyone thinking in terms of questions, not just answers. 
  • Reward good questions--Rather than just focusing on praise, recognition and rewards for the right answers, find ways to reward the best questions. 
  • Follow a question with a question--When students ask questions, we often get into a back and forth, where they ask the question and we give the answer. Try experimenting with responding to students with another question. Make a game of it, trying to see how many questions you can ask in a row without going directly to giving an answer. 

2. Ask better questions.

As it turns out, when it comes to curiosity, there are good questions and there are bad questions. 

Close-ended questions that can be answered with just a few words (like yes or no) are generally boring questions, so they don't generate a lot of curiosity. If we want kids to get curious, we need to find ways to ask better questions. 

The image below shows how the way we construct questions can make them more or less powerful. 

In general, the higher up the pyramid we go, the better the questions, although just because you start a question with "Why" doesn't mean it will be a good one. In fact, if we aren't careful, it can evoke defensiveness, as when we ask "Why did you do that?!" when we're clearly exasperated with someone.

Another way to ask better questions is to go for surprising questions. Often we can do this by exploring opposites,  challenging assumptions or pairing different questions together. For example if we were exploring the topic of leadership:

  • "How was Hitler a GREAT leader?" This could get students thinking more deeply about what it means to be a good/bad leader. 
  • "How do adults make better leaders than teens?" and "How do teens make better leaders than adults?"
  • "What's the WORST leadership experience you ever had and what can we learn about being a good leader from that experience?"
As you experiment with asking more questions, also experiment with asking better questions. See where questions have "juice" and get students excited to answer them. Try to build on those questions to use in other areas. 

3. Leave blanks--give incomplete information. 

One interesting finding about curiosity is that people usually need to know something about the topic to pique their interest. If they know absolutely nothing, they don't have enough information to help them formulate questions. 

One way to play with this is to give students incomplete information. Try giving them a handout that has some intriguing information in it, but the information is incomplete. Show them a part of an image or give them a snippet of a quote to see how it opens up questions. Look for ways to give them part of what they need to know---enough to get them wondering--which gives them space to be curious about what else they need to find out. 

You can also try giving students only part of the information they need to solve a puzzle or challenge. Each student has a piece and they have to work with partners or teams to put all of it together for a complete answer. 

4. Explore from different perspectives.

Having students take on different personas or perspectives can be another powerful way to build curiosity. They are used to approaching situations from their own perspective, but getting them to take on a different perspective can get them thinking differently about the topic. 

For example, if you are teaching job search to students, have them take on the perspective of employers trying to decide who they will hire for their company. Or if you are exploring leadership, have them take turns being a leader and a follower and then discuss the differences in the experience between the two. 

5. Build on passions and interests.

One of the most powerful ways to engage young people's curiosity is to connect to their particular passions and interests. Regardless of the topic you are teaching, always be looking for how you can connect that topic to what really inspires your students. Curiosity is linked to what inspires us, so the more a topic is connected to our personal interests, the more likely we are to be curious about it. 

Some Final Thoughts

To cultivate curiosity, we have to back away from moving so quickly to answers. We have to ask more questions and leave space for students to want to explore.  Below are some additional resources that can help you bring more curiosity into your classroom.  

Additional Resources

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