How is Your Positive Questioning?

Sustained Shared Thinking is the extended conversations between children and adults, or children and their peers. This will be encouraged by using Active Listening (see the blog here) coupled with Positive Questioning.

Sometimes there is a great temptation to quiz children to find out what they know, how they are feeling and what they are thinking. However, just as with adults, this can be very off putting, and actually cause your child to stop sharing their thoughts.

So, how can we encourage Sustained Shared Thinking, without intimidating or scaring the children away?

There are a number of really useful techniques. Used in combination they can support the ‘Sustained’ element of Sustained Shared Thinking:

  • ‘Tuning in’ – Just as the phrase suggests, this is making sure you are receiving the correct signals from your child – not just what is being said verbally, but also the body language, tone, context and background. This will indicate the type of questioning that is appropriate. For example, if your child is uncertain or shy in the situation, it would be unwise to start intensive questioning in this case!
  • Along with this is respecting the children’s own choices by inviting children to elaborate, with no pressure or expectations – ‘I really want to know more about this. Would you like to explain it a bit, please?’
  • Re-capping is a very good technique, because you are simply repeating back your child’s own thoughts, so he or she can help you to understand their thinking process – ‘So you think that…’
  • We probably don’t share our own experiences as often as we could. This can reinforce or challenge children’s own thoughts – “I often write out a shopping list. Do you think a list could help here?”
  • Suggesting different ways of problem solving is a good way to move thinking on, whilst still supporting and encouraging your child – “Shall we try turning the box round to see if it fits on the shelf better?”
  • For older children, reminding them of their previous thoughts can open a dialogue – “Don’t forget that you thought that this stone will melt if I boil it. Do you think it will now?”
  • Offering an alternative viewpoint can start many conversations – “Maybe Jack shouldn’t have climbed the beanstalk?” Closely related to this is speculating or reflecting – “I wonder how he climbed so high?”
  • Reciprocating or sharing common experiences or thoughts can be a very good technique for those children who may be shyer or less vocal – “My feet are soaking wet from the puddle. Thank goodness that you were wearing wellington boots when you jumped in. I hope they kept your feet dry”
  • Modelling thinking out loud can seem very unnatural at first, but with practice, it is a really supportive technique – “I have to think hard about what I do this evening. I need to get dinner ready, but I need to go to the shop to buy some milk too. The bus is at half past, so I will have to be quick. I will have to make sure my classroom is tidy on time” This helps children to think through a situation and question themselves as to how they might achieve this.
  • If you are using questions to initiate Sustained Shared Thinking, it is far better to use open-ended questions, rather than questions that just require a yes/no answer (closed questions). These are questions that start with – How, What, When, Where, Who. Note that “Why” questions can become judgmental and make children feel as if they have to justify their answers, so should be used very sparingly.
  • Finally, Use Silence! As adults, we can sometimes feel uncomfortable is there is a lull in the conversation, but for children this may be vital thinking time.

Of course, there will be many occasions where simply observing, and not interrupting or questioning at all is the most appropriate course of action. Knowing when this is takes great skill, experience and practice.

Finally, just for fun, here are some adults being asked just one question, followed by some children being asked the same question. I found it very thought-provoking (and a bit emotional too…):


Further reading:

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2005) TACTYC Annual Conference, 5th November, Cardiff  ‘Quality Interactions in the Early Years’ Birth to Eight Matters! Seeking Seamlessness – Continuity? Integration? Creativity?

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  • claire richardson Mar 27,2018 at 10:41 pm

    i found this useful as it helped me to reflect on my positive questioning and i will share with the rest of the team as it will be of great help as it will help supporting them to be better practitioners in being able to support children much better.

    • Kathy Apr 14,2018 at 10:44 am

      Hi Claire,
      That is great to hear! Many thanks indeed for the feedback,
      Best regards

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