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Ask the Question!

We learn by asking questions

by Jan Edmunds (revised, originally published in 2006)

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To demonstrate the importance of asking questions.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need to have a large question mark displayed.
  • You will also need eight pieces of paper, each showing one of the following words: What? Why? When? How? Where? Who? Can? Will?


  1. Show the large question mark.

    Ask the children, ‘Who can tell me what this is?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Explain when we might use a question mark.

  2. Ask the children, ‘Can anyone suggest a word that we could use to begin a question?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Through discussion, try to establish your eight words. As each word is named, give the piece of paper that shows that word to the child who has volunteered the information. (‘Can’ and ‘Will’ may not be so forthcoming, so you may have to introduce them yourself.)

    Ask the eight children who are holding the pieces of paper to line up at the front so that the rest of the children can see them.

    Mention that ‘Can’ and ‘Will’ always sound better if we use them with the word ‘please’, as in ‘Please can I?’ or ‘Please will you?’

  3. Ask the children to listen to the following poem and see how all these words can help.

    I have some very special words; they help in all I do.
    Their names are What and Why and When
    And How and Where and Who.
    Then there are two others, whose names are Can and Will.
    They often whirl round in my head; my brain is never still.
    I learn by asking questions; it helps me as I grow,
    Working to give me knowledge, answering things I need to know.

  4. Invite the children to read aloud with you each of the words on the pieces of paper. Then, thank your helpers and ask them to sit down.

    Point out that the words that we have just read are very special. People have been using them ever since we developed the ability to speak. Finding the answers has meant that not only have we learned about the past, but we have discovered new things that have changed our world.

    Optional: you may wish to develop further discussion here if appropriate. For example, you could explain that questions such as ‘How big?’, ‘How heavy?’ and ‘How wide?’ resulted in measurement. Archaeologists and historians have learned about the past by asking, ‘What is it?’, ‘How old is it?’ and ‘What was it used for?’ Scientists, doctors and engineers have asked, ‘How can we do that?’, ‘How does it work?’, ‘How can we solve that problem?’ and ‘What can we do to make things better?’ Just think and the list can go on and on.

  5. Point out that our homes would have looked very different a century ago. All of our modern inventions and comforts exist because people wanted solutions to their problems.

    If we were living in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, we wouldn’t have many of the things that we enjoy today. There would be no radio, television, mobile phones, computers, electronic games or electric lighting. Our toilet might be a bucket in a little brick building outside! Our water might come from a well in the garden. The modern motor car didn’t exist and there were no aeroplanes, so journeys took much longer. So many things have changed.

    Nowadays, we can find answers to many of our questions by searching the internet or looking in books.

  6. Move on to tell the following story about Alexander Fleming.

    Alexander Asks

    Alexander Fleming was a boy who was always asking questions. When he grew up, he wanted to be a doctor. ‘Why are so many people dying from their illnesses?’ he asked. He needed to find an answer to this question and did so almost by chance.

    One day, in his lab, Fleming realized that some mould had developed accidentally on a few dishes. He noticed that the mould had created a germ-free circle around itself. He did some experiments on the circle and discovered a substance that he could use to make vaccines that would cure people of infections. During the Second World War, many lives were saved in this way.

    The substance that Fleming discovered is still used in medicines today. In fact, many of you have probably taken one of these medicines when you have been poorly. The name of Fleming’s substance is penicillin and the medicines that use it are called antibiotics.

  7. Ask the children, ‘Would Alexander Fleming have discovered penicillin if he hadn’t asked any questions?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

Time for reflection

In the Bible, the disciples often ask Jesus questions. Jesus in turn often teaches his followers about God by asking them questions. Jesus also says, ‘Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For anyone who asks shall receive, and anyone who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to those who knock.’ (Matthew 7.7-8)

Ask the children the following questions.
- What is your big question for today?
- What would you like to know the answer to, and how will you set about finding it?

Encourage the children to continue to ask questions throughout their lives. Encourage them to look for answers.

Dear God,
We ask you to give us enquiring minds.
Teach us to ask questions and to keep on trying to find the answers so that we may learn new things.
Thank you for all of the answers that we have already found
And for all of the interesting questions that are still to come.

Publication date: May 2022   (Vol.24 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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