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How to come up with great questions for kids - anywhere you are and whatever you are doing

By
Kavin Wadhar
October 12, 2020

I came across this tool called the "question quadrant" recently and it immediately clicked. I though it was such a simple but powerful way to generate different types of questions and I just had to share it.

The question quadrant was created by Phil Cam to enhance classroom talk but I believe it can be extended for use by parents at home to cover any situation your kids are in.

It doesn't matter if you are reading a book, making a sandwich or coming home from school. In this article I will show you an easy way to find thought-provoking questions for your kids whatever they are doing. As you will see the questions are different types and will build skills from simple comprehension to speculative thinking.

And if you get stuck at all then just email me at hello@kidcoach.app, tell me what the situation is and I will help you come up with some question options!

Brief History of Question Quadrant

In 2006 the Educationalist Phil Cam came up with a simple question quadrant for use by teachers in a classroom. You had to read a story with children as a stimulus first and then use the quadrant. One axis is about questions that are open-ended vs close-ended (i.e. many answers vs one answer); the other axis is about questions that have answers in the stimulus text vs those that are more about life in general.

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This creates 4 quadrants:

  1. Reading and Comprehension: these are "look and see" questions where the answers will lie in the text somewhere
  2. Researching and Asking: these are "ask an expert" questions where the answers are available with a spot of Googling
  3. Speculation and Imagination: these are "think about for a moment" questions that encourage your child to join the dots
  4. Enquiry and Philosophy: these are "discuss and debate" big topics, where there will be many points of view that should be encouraged

The overall objective was to bring children to the bottom-right quadrant, getting them to think about "life's big questions" and have a discussion around this (known as Philosophy for Children).

Let's use an example to illustrate. Say a class had just read "Three Little Pigs". This has several themes in it that might be explored e.g. safety, animals, buildings, strength, good vs bad etc

Let's say you picked the theme of safety.

This is what the question quadrant could look like.

  1. Comprehension: "What were the three houses made from?"
  2. Research: "What is the best way to make a house safe?”
  3. Speculation: "Why did wolf want to come in?"
  4. Enquiry: "What is the best way to keep safe in life?"

Do you see how one simple stimulus can create such a wide range of questions?

Now in my humble opinion I believe this method can be used for any topic or situation you find yourself.

Let's take a look at some examples for parents at home, who want to get their kids thinking in new and different ways.

How parents at home can use this

Let's say you are making a cheese sandwich. Pretty simple and boring topic, right?

Well if you think about the question quadrant - you could come up with these sorts of questions - all on the theme of food:

  • Comprehension: "What type of cheese is it?"
  • Research: "How do you make cheese?"
  • Speculation: "What do you like eating when hungry?"
  • Enquiry: "Is it fair that some people have more to eat in the world than others?"

See how it can work so well?

Important note: the top half of the quadrant is always about the "text" (e.g. three little pigs) or the "stimulus" (e.g. the cheese sandwich). For us parents at home the stimulus can be anything that you happen to be doing. The bottom half is where you can expand it into questions about life in general, still connected to the theme you have in mind.

Let's take another everyday example - riding your bike. Here the theme could be learning.

  • Comprehension: "How many spokes does your wheel have?"
  • Research: "How would you fix a flat tyre?"
  • Speculation: "How did you learn to ride your bike?"
  • Enquiry: "When do you stop learning things?"

I believe the Question Quadrant it can also help you turn "bland" questions into "interesting" questions.

The classic one is "How was school today?"

Every parent has had that exasperated moment when you want to know how the day was but you just get "I don't know" or "Fine" in response. Me included!

Let's see if the question quadrant can help us...

  • Comprehension: "What did you do at school today?"
  • Research: "How many schools are there in the UK?"
  • Speculation: "Why do you go to school?"
  • Enquiry: "Should every child have to go to school?"

Questions for kids are kind of my "thing"

I love this stuff.

Over the years I have got quite good at asking good questions. I think it started in the workplace with my consultancy training, since questions were our tools to diagnose and improve a client's business.

More recently I started using with my own children to have better conversations. As I shared the approach with other parents they also loved the resulting conversations they had with their kids. They found it was a fast and effective way to develop and bond with their kids, getting the most out of 5 or 10 minutes here and there.

That's why I left my corporate role to create the KidCoachApp - guided conversations to help parents get their kids "talking, thinking and feeling" - developing the skills they need to thrive in tomorrow's world.

If you want to ask your kids interesting questions that leads to better conversations, then make sure you download it!

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Question quadrant builds critical thinking and other skills

The added bonus to conversations like this is that it builds crucial skills in your children.

Let's go back to the question quadrant to see how:

  • Comprehension questions: checks understanding of simple facts and memory recall
  • Research questions: lets them practice researching or asking Google to find a plausible answer
  • Speculation questions: gets them thinking and providing their opinion with reasons why
  • Enquiry questions: surfaces life's "big questions" shows them how anyone can participate in society to discuss and influence these topics

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Overall you might say that the question quadrant builds critical thinking skills, which is one of the essential skills that is going to be super important for the future. Our App for critical thinking has a big focus on this.

Note: you have to go in the right order

Let's say you were making that cheese sandwich again. What would happen if you jumped straight to an "Enquiry" question about world poverty and hunger? I'm pretty sure you would lose your audience straightaway!

One thing I have learned from practice is that there is an optimal order for navigating the question quadrant. Go in this order:

  1. Comprehension
  2. Research
  3. Speculation
  4. Enquiry

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Asking a simple comprehension question eg "What type of cheese is it?" is an easy lead-in that gets your child at least saying something to acknowledge your presence (because let's face it sometimes that is a win itself 😀 )

You can then build on that.

If Google or an expert is not to hand, you may want to skip the Research question and go straight to Speculation eg "What do you like eating when hungry?" Don't worry if you get a "I don't know" in return - it is pretty common. Just follow up with something like "That's OK, just take a moment to think about it." If there is still silence after this then you can model a response to get it going e.g. "Well, last week you had beans on toast when you were starving..."

Now you are ready to tackle the big Enquiry question eg "Is it fair that some people in the world have more to eat than others?" Be patient with this and take your time. It is a big topic that takes some time to digest. If there are other people around then like your spouse or some siblings then include them to bring different viewpoints into the discussion.

And enjoy it - it is in this conversation that you are building the most important skill set in your child!

Feeling stuck? I'm happy to help

I believe that any situation you find yourself in as a parent has the opportunity for really great questions. I really believe that "every moment is a coaching moment" and am super passionate about helping other parents do this with their own children.

So reach out to me with the topics you are interested in. No matter how dry or boring I bet I can make some interesting questions for you! Just email them to hello@kidcoach.app and I promise I will respond!

In the meantime you may want to glance at this pre-prepared list of 101 questions to get kids thinking, or just go ahead and get the KidCoachApp , which is my attempt at distilling all this good stuff into a handy App you can use on the go. In just 5 minutes a day it really will help you develop the skills your kids need to thrive in tomorrow's world - simply through conversation. Download the App here!

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Written by
Kavin Wadhar

Kavin left a comfortable corporate role to pursue his passion. He has built KidCoachApp, which provides parents with hundreds of guided conversations for parents to get their kids talking, thinking and feeling - and building skills they will need to thrive. He lives in London with his wife and 2 kids.

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