How to Formulate Questions for SOLE Activities

One Methods:Examples of Questions

Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) activities require good questions to get the investigations underway. If you're not used to asking open-ended and big picture questions, you might need a little guidance to help you get the investigating started. In general, SOLE activities are aimed at children ages 8 through 12 but you can tailor the questions to any age level as needed.


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    Set the tone. When explaining the question process in a SOLE activity, draw attention to the fact that you know children love to answer difficult questions. This will help them to be receptive to the challenge that you're about to set them. An example might be: "You know how you're all really good at answering questions? Today we have a challenge with a few tough questions that we need you to find the answers for!"
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    Formulate your questions with the idea of challenging the participants. The question is what influences the extent and breadth of the children's investigation. As the adult facilitator, your role is to ask questions that encourage the children to undertake deep exploration and to have lengthy and involved discussions about the research results they've found. Simple questions that can be answered quickly and without much thought will not promote this sort of exchange between the participants, so it is important to ask questions that are focused on the big picture and are open-ended, with possibly many or even no answers. The more difficult and interesting the question, the more likely the children will be enthused to explore widely and get excited about discussing.
    • Don't shy away from difficult concepts or big words. Scientific principles, math equations and Shakespearean language are all simply an opportunity for the children to dig deeper and work out for themselves what the meanings are, as well as finding the solutions to the question.
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    Ask questions about the world and the things that you know the children have an interest in. This line of pursuit will encourage children to learn more about the world, their place in it and the things that they care about. The questions may cover such things as the way other children in the world live and learn, animals, nature, science, math, food, the universe––indeed, anything that you know the children will love to explore in greater depth.
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    Find people to ask the questions instead of you. You don't necessarily have to come up with the questions yourself. In fact, it's probably a good idea that you don't be the one always asking the questions; involving other people can be a part of the learning experience about other people in the community, country and world around the children. You could either obtain a question from another person and read it out, or organize a video or Skype link-up of someone else asking the question that they need to pursue.
    • For example, you could have a question asked by a child in another country, a scientist on an expedition or a person at their place of work. Parents, friends, community groups, school link-ups, and other networks can all be a possible source of finding challenging questions for the children to pursue. The added expectation of reporting back to this person who is outside of their school environment will add a sense of purpose to finding good answers.
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    • It is a good idea to write the question up on a whiteboard or blackboard for constant referral after it has been asked. This will help keep the groups on track with their research.
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    Encourage the participants to come up with challenging questions of their own. As the participants become more familiar with the SOLE process and answering the questions, have them take on the task of finding challenging questions for other participants. This will help them to develop their question-asking and facilitating roles on top of the exploring and learning roles. Eventually, some of the children entering their teen years may take on the role of moderating SOLE activities for younger children.

Examples of Questions

The following questions are examples taken directly from the SOLE toolkit available at:

  • How do my eyes know to cry when I am sad?
  • Why aren't there any mammals bigger than a blue whale?
  • Can you kill a goat by staring at it?
  • Why do we slip on wet surfaces?
  • Can anything be less than zero?
  • Will robots be conscious one day?
  • Is it more dangerous to fly in an airplane or to drive?
  • Is it disgusting to eat insects?
  • Why haven't we seen evidence of intelligent alien life?
  • What is irony?
  • Is there life on other planets?
  • Are there more stars in the universe of grains of sand on all the world's beaches?
  • What is altruism?
  • Why do things fall down and not up or sideways?
  • Do fish feel pain?


  • When the children are exploring the questions, leave them to it. The peer helper should help to steer the group and resolve issues. Only step in if it's really necessary during the investigation phase.
  • If you're coming up with questions as a family, it can be fun to set all family members the challenge of finding out the answers and coming back to share the answers as a game. This can be a fun weekend activity that gets mom and dad involved in the investigating side too. Try some of the questions suggested above to get you started.
  • Simple questions are okay for younger children but still aim for ones that are open-ended, to give them the room to explore beyond a simple "cats are felines" or "yes, they do" type answer.

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